Pfizer says it is prepared to drop German firm that it partnered with on Covid jabs
Pfizer has admitted it may ditch the German biotech firm that made its breakthrough coronavirus jab as it looks to drastically expand its vaccine business.
The US drugs giant has revealed plans to use gene-based technology, harnessed by BioNTech, to tackle other viruses and illnesses beyond Covid.
Pfizer’s boss claimed the firm had learned enough about mRNA vaccines to go solo, adding that it no longer ‘needs to work with BioNTech’ beyond the end of the companies’ flu jab agreement in July.
Albert Bourla, the firm’s chief executive, revealed the company had recruited at least 50 more scientists to work out of its new mRNA-focused lab in New York.
It has also secured specialised raw materials and designed clinical trials so that it can manufacture and study vaccines without splitting profits.
Mr Bourla told the Wall Street Journal: ‘We like working with BioNTech, but we don’t need to work with BioNTech. We have our own expertise developed.’
The German company was the brains behind the Covid jab, which was proven to be 95 per cent effective at blocking Covid symptoms and became the first in the world to get approval in December when Britain gave it the green light.
Pfizer, most famous for inventing Viagra, came on board to manufacture, distribute and commercialise the vaccine.
The two companies are currently splitting profits on the Covid jab evenly, with sales expected to return roughly £13billion this year.
BioNTech seemed unaffected by the news in a statement and said it welcomed the ‘acknowledgement’ of the technology it had developed.
Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said the drugs giant no longer ‘needs to work with BioNTech’
The German firm was the brains behind the Covid jab — proven to be 95 per cent effective — which was the first in the world to get approval in December in Britain (file)
Analysts at JP Morgan forecast more than £8.5bn in sales for the jab next year, which will increase if annual booster shots are needed.
BioNTech is expected to supply one billion doses of the jab this year, a target that increased by a quarter when it got approval for its factory in Marburg, Germany.
And Pfizer is matching this with another billion, bringing the pair’s total to two billion.
A BioNTech spokeswoman told the WSJ: ‘We consider it a great acknowledgment for mRNA technologies that companies such as our partner Pfizer are getting involved into building their own mRNA vaccine strategy.’
The two firms first began to collaborate in 2018 with the aim of making a flu vaccine.
But that original deal expires this July, at which point Pfizer will continue to research, manufacture and sell any jab proven to work.
How do mRNA vaccines work?
MRNA is a next generation technology, or platform, to use vaccine terminology.
Traditional vaccines use one harmless, typically inactivated virus – such as the types that cause common colds – to deliver a tiny, harmless piece of the virus that the shot will provide protection against to the human body.
The piece is enough to ‘teach’ the immune system how to recognize and fend off the invader.
MRNA is easier and faster to make, and much more easily modified than older types of vaccines, and even has the potential to provide protection against multiple viruses in one vaccine.
The coronavirus vaccine is made from volatile genetic material known as mRNA, or messenger RNA, tiny pieces of genetic material that mimic the coronavirus so the immune system can learn to spot and destroy it.
Scientists say mRNA vaccines are cheaper to make and easier to modify in the face of new variants or viruses.
The process of developing mRNA vaccines is also purely synthetic, meaning experts don’t have to rely on living cells from plants or animals.