Growing Trends in the Biopharmaceutical Industry Prompt Intrigue as to How Healthcare Will Change in Future
Trends in the biopharmaceutical industry are intriguing to consider with the latest financial projections reported this week for major players in the mRNA vaccine game, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. While both companies have been successful in their vaccine rollouts, comparing how each company got there points to developing trends in the biopharmaceutical industry which may change the face of healthcare for good.
Because of Pfizer’s powerful manufacturing capabilities; increased manufacturing from BioNTech’s new production facilities in Marburg, Germany; regulatory approvals of six-dose vials (Higgins-Dunn, 2021); and the duo’s recently announced signing with Sanofi and Novartis to increase manufacturing, Pfizer/BioNtech now expect to produce nearly double the amount of vaccines they had predicted at the beginning of the year. Pfizer has already made a profit of $3.5B, and expects a total of $26B in revenue from COVID-19 vaccine sales alone in 2021 (Higgins-Dunn, 2021).
BioNTech’s Senior VP Katalin Kariko and research partner Drew Weisman are responsible for discovering and refining the science behind mRNA in the 1990s – 2000s. When CEO Ugur Sahin heard about COVID-19 spreading through Wuhan, he knew his company could be a solution to the problem, but not without backing from big pharma.
BioNTech had not yet produced a viable therapeutic, and was hanging on with funding from sibling billionaires, a few partnerships with larger pharmaceutical companies, and successful funding rounds from capital investors (Timset & Foley, 2020). Having established a partnership with Pfizer in 2018 to try and produce the world’s first mRNA flu vaccine, timing and resources were perfectly aligned when the pandemic struck.
In February, Moderna reported it would be able to produce a minimum of 700 million vaccine doses and a maximum of 1.4 billion, those figures will likely increase thanks to “planned investments across its own U.S. facilities and those of its manufacturing partners in Europe” (Kansteiner, 2021). The company is in talks to ramp up its supply chain production with CDMOs as well as pharmaceutical drug makers. Moderna could bring in around $14B in revenues in 2021.
Moderna’s founders organically grew from Harvard academia, and the company “prides itself on being the disruptor of the mRNA industry” (Timset & Foley, 2020). Moderna’s science attracted the likes of Robert Langer of MIT, and VC Flagship Pioneering. The Boston-area biotech was established in 2010 without ever having brought a viable therapeutic to market, and when it went public it had the biggest IPO to date at $600M. JP Morgan believed the company’s initial valuation at $7.5B to be hyperinflated – today it is worth $50B (Timset & Foley, 2020).
Although Moderna had financial backing with pharmaceutical partners Merck and AstraZeneca for other promising mRNA vaccines, the biotech was determined to get a COVID-19 vaccine to the masses without the help of big pharma. It already had mRNA vaccines in clinical trials for other infectious diseases, as well as contracted government deals. When the pandemic hit, all it needed was the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein genetic sequence – which took researchers two days to figure out (Timset & Foley, 2020).
Both BioNTech and Moderna’s approaches to developing mRNA vaccines were very different. BioNTech fully embraced the help of big pharmaceutical backing, and Moderna stuck to the modern biotech formula of looking for backing from private investment, government funding, and the clout they had garnered in the biotech world through developing a scientific breakthrough.
As the life sciences industry continues to evolve, each of the company’s stories highlight trends taking shape in the biopharmaceutical industry, of which long term effects remain to be seen. Is it better as a small biotech to use the low-risk backing of a big pharmaceutical company, which guarantees ease of production and manufacturing? Is it preferred to seek out investment and partnerships with CDMOs and smaller suppliers to reap maximum financial benefit that could come from developing a jackpot drug candidate, perhaps leaving a legacy in the industry?
Of course, there are many things to consider when mulling over these questions as a new biotech. The mission, vision, and objectives of the company are paramount. The need for mass distribution (as in pandemic vaccine production), or targeting a smaller population of patients (as in rare disease drug development) is another factor to consider. Whether the science can be applied in many contexts or to a single disease is another.
With VC funding, private investment, and IPO at an all time high; and pharmaceutical companies vying cutting edge biotech companies to expand their portfolios and stay competitive, watching trends in the biopharmaceutical industry play out is intriguing. What is happening now could affect the future of the healthcare industry in many ways, which remain to be seen.
Higgins-Dunn, N. (24 May 2021). BioNTech, with partner Pfizer, on track to make 3B COVID vaccine doses in 2021, CEO says. Fierce Pharma. https://www.fiercepharma.com/pharma/thanks-to-revved-up-manufacturing-biontech-ceo-estimates-3b-covid-vaccine-doses-2021
Kansteiner, F. (29 April 2021). Moderna blueprints plant upgrades to rev up vaccine supply to 3B doses a year. Fierce Pharma. https://www.fiercepharma.com/manufacturing/moderna-blueprints-investments-at-home-and-abroad-to-lift-vaccine-supply-to-upward-3b
Timset, A., & Foley, K.E. (23 December 2020). Moderna and BioNTech are changing pharma with drastically different business models. Quartz.https://qz.com/1947436/how-moderna-and-biontech-are-writing-the-future-of-pharma/