BioNTech profits soar as Covid vaccine demand surges

German company announces plans to test its efficacy in children under 12 and pregnant women

BioNTech will be testing the potential of its messenger RNA technology in cancer research. Photograph:  Javier Torres / AFP via Getty Images

BioNTech will be testing the potential of its messenger RNA technology in cancer research. Photograph: Javier Torres / AFP via Getty Images

 

BioNTech beat sales expectations for a second straight quarter as profits jumped to almost €2.8 billion on soaring demand for its coronavirus vaccine.

The German biotech group said on Monday it expected its full-year revenues from the jab, developed in a joint venture with Pfizer, to be about €15.9 billion, well above a previous forecast of €12.4 billion.

BioNTech said that by July 21st it had signed contracts for 2.2 billion doses for delivery this year and more than one billion for 2022 and beyond, and that it expected annual manufacturing capacity to reach three billion doses by the end of the year.

“We and our partner Pfizer have crossed the one billion mark for Covid-19 vaccine doses shipped worldwide,” Ugur Sahin, chief executive, said in a statement. “We are proud to have reached this great milestone after only six months and to have made a difference for people with our proprietary mRNA technology.”

The BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine and US group Moderna’s are the only two available so far to use messenger RNA technology, which gives cells genetic instructions to make viral proteins that prime the body’s immune system.

More effective

Demand for the mRNA shots from wealthy nations has surged since trials showed them to be significantly more effective than rival jabs that contain either viral proteins or an inactivated virus.

BioNTech’s profits in the first half of the year reached €3.9 billion, against losses of €142 million a year earlier. Revenues from the vaccine, on course to become one of the world’s best-selling drugs, are split with Pfizer.

The company’s soaring fortunes – with its shares rising fourfold in the past year – have allowed for a big push into other medical research.

The Mainz-based start-up reported a cash position of €914.1 million and said it aimed to plough €950 million-€1.5 billion into research and development in the second half of the year.

Cancer therapies

Among its top priorities will be testing the potential of its messenger RNA technology in oncology research. The company is working on 15 candidates for cancer therapies and has also vowed to devote resources to developing malaria and tuberculosis vaccines.

BioNTech and Pfizer expect manufacturing capacity to reach four billion next year. The two companies have continued their research on an mRNA vaccine for influenza, and BioNTech said human trials would begin in the next quarter.

As the BioNTech/Pfizer shot begins to be distributed among children aged 12-17, the German company announced plans to test its efficacy in other groups, such as children under 12 and pregnant women.

Demand for booster shots is also rising, despite calls by the World Health Organization to prioritise getting jabs to poorer nations.

Pfizer and BioNTech, along with other Covid-19 vaccine makers, have faced heavy criticism from developing countries and aid groups that have called for patents to be lifted in order for the vaccine to be more widely produced, something Dr Sahin has rejected as a risk to quality control. Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla has argued it would stifle innovation.

The companies have attempted to allay concerns by offering to increase access to the jab and invest in production in regions such as Africa, where last month Pfizer and BioNTech announced plans to develop a “fill-and-finish” vaccine facility in Cape Town.

“To address the ongoing pandemic, we are expanding the supply of our Covid-19 vaccine to more than 100 countries and regions worldwide, including enhancing access to low- and middle-income countries,” Dr Sahin said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021