BioNTech and Pfizer raise 2021 vaccine production target to 2.5bn doses

German company’s CEO says refrigerator version will be ready within months

BioNTech and Pfizer raised this year's production target for their Covid-19 vaccine to as many as 2.5 billion doses, with the German biotech's chief executive predicting a version of the shot that can be stored in refrigerators will be ready within months.

The new target represents an increase of about one quarter from the company’s earlier estimate.

BioNTech said it expects €9.8 billion in revenue from the supply contracts signed already, which amount to 1.4 billion doses. Revenue expectations include milestone payments from BioNTech’s partners and will rise as more orders are signed, the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

"We are seeing an increased demand," chief executive Ugur Sahin said.

“At the moment we have prepared ourselves to produce 2.5 billion doses, but in principle there is room for further increase.”

The vaccine, the first approved in the US and EU, has catapulted BioNTech into the front ranks of European biotech companies.

Mr Sahin and his wife and co-founder Ozlem Tureci, BioNTech's chief medical officer, have said they will use the vaccine profits to push forward with research in other areas as well.

The messenger RNA technology is being studied for other types of vaccines, including seasonal flu, and could also have applications as a treatment for cancer and other diseases.

BioNTech and Pfizer had previously said they could make about 2 billion pandemic shots this year, enough to immunise 1 billion people. Next year, the partners could have capacity to make 3 billion doses, Mr Sahin said.

By early in the second half of this year, the companies should be able to offer a ready-to-use formulation of the vaccine that could be stored at refrigerator temperatures, Mr Sahin said.

Easier to store

That would make it much easier for doctors’ offices and pharmacies to store and dispense the shot. The current version requires freezer storage.

Also in the works is a freeze-dried formulation, which will require a clinical trial to ensure it is safe and works as well as the original. That study will start in the US in April, BioNTech said, and should have data by the third quarter. A freeze-dried version of the vaccine could be stockpiled by governments and shipped and stored even more easily.

BioNTech reported €366.9 million in fourth-quarter profit, compared with a €58.2 million loss in the year-earlier quarter. As of year-end, the company had €1.2 billion in cash. It expects to spend as much as €850 million on research and development this year.

– Bloomberg