How COVID-19 Saved Pfizer’s Revenue
Pre-pandemic, Pfizer was staring down the patent cliff with shrinking profits
Stephanie Sutton | | 3 min read | Opinion
The Medicine Maker recently celebrated the inaugural Company of the Year Awards. We already publish an annual celebration of inspirational individuals in the pharma industry (our Power List), but we also wanted an awards scheme to showcase the achievements of companies. Winners were chosen in six categories: Best Big Pharma, Best API Supplier, Best Biopharma Equipment Company, Best CDMO Service Provider, Best Processing Equipment Company, and Best Talking Point. You can see the full results here – but, in this article, I want to focus on the winner of the Best Big Pharma company: Pfizer.
After Pfizer’s performance during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s perhaps no surprise that the company took the Best Big Pharma category by storm! At the recent IPEC-Americas Excipient World event, Associate Research Fellow Roger Pak gave a presentation detailing the importance of novel lipid excipients in the company’s COVID-19 vaccine. His presentation emphasized the amazing work that went into finding a vaccine. Pfizer and BioNTech agreed to expand their existing flu collaboration to COVID-19 by signing a letter of intent on March 17, 2020. From there, Pak confessed, there were many long days with people regularly working past midnight. He remembers working on filings and messaging colleagues at 1 am, then getting up for meetings at 5 am. He described it as “crazy times,” but also noted the high energy levels because the work was so important. By May 2020, the vaccine was in the clinic, with a data readout in July. Rolling regulatory submissions began in October. The speed was incredible.
And Pfizer has been rewarded for the work. The company reported full-year revenues of almost US$81.3 billion for 2021 – up from around $41.7 billion in 2020. The company’s COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, made almost $37 billion in 2021. After Comirnaty, the company’s next best seller was anticoagulant Eliquis, with revenues of just under $6 billion in 2021.
In a letter to shareholders, Pfizer’s chairman and CEO, Albert Bourla, described 2021 as a “watershed year” for the company. Pfizer’s medicines reached around 1.4 billion patients – about one sixth of the global population.
In 2022, Pfizer expects to make $32 billion in revenue from Comirnaty and is also expecting big sales numbers (around $22 billion) from Paxlovid – the company’s recently approved antiviral COVID-19 treatment.
But prior to the pandemic, things weren’t so rosy for Pfizer. The company was certainly still making a lot of money – it’s a big pharma company, after all – but, between 2018 and 2021, revenues were definitely shrinking due to patent expiries. The company was in danger of dropping out of the list of top 10 biggest big pharma companies by revenue. To illustrate the company’s shifting fortunes – and the significant contribution its COVID-19 efforts have made – we took big pharma revenues and animated their changes over time.