Daina Graybosch, a top life science research analyst at SVB Leerink covering Immuno-Oncology, recently communicated to investors that Pfizer and partner BioNTech was moving forward with a Phase 1 clinical trial for a fifth candidate in the partnership’s COVID-19 vaccine portfolio known as BNT162. The partnership, of course, has progressed BNT162b2 to Phase 2/3 clinical testing but now is also progressing to clinicals a new vaccine known as BNT162b3. Obviously, the duo have identified significant promise for this candidate to proceed at this point to a Phase 1 clinical trial expected to commence in September. Interestingly, although Pfizer promoted BNT162b2 progression via the press, they have kept quiet about BNT162b3, opting not to issue a press release. Ms. Graybosch perhaps suggests Pfizer playing a longer strategic game to dominate the COVID-19 vaccine market with the mRNA-based technology partner BioNTech. Often it’s the “Vaccine 2.0” that becomes the standard.
After all, the first wave of vaccines have been rushed through at unprecedented speeds. Many experts suggest that the first batch of approved products won’t be the last as the science and research community accumulates knowledge about COVID-19. Past experience demonstrates with infectious disease that often it’s specific follow-up products that end up owning the day; they end up being safer and more effective.
The Pfizer & BioNTech Diversification Play
From the start, this partnership entered the COVID-19 race with not one vaccine but actually four under the BNT162 program. Now adding a fifth, in an iterative and agile manner, the partnership clearly is placing a bet to be number one in COVID-19 Vaccine 1.0 while quietly positioning itself to become the winners of the more than likely bigger stakes COVID-19 Vaccine 2.0 race.
Ms. Graybosch emphasized this in the letter to shareholders, communicating that the American and German partnership having “multiple shots-on-goal puts them in a good position for the long-term catch-up vaccination, revaccination, and /or pandemic stockpiling markets.”
Data will Tell Over Time
Obviously much can happen in the months ahead, with Moderna (mRNA-1273), AstraZeneca (AZD1222—although there has been a delay due to a safety event—as well as Novavax, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, the vaccines from China, Sputnik V and others. Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) prepares a large vaccine trial and other large pharma companies are working on vaccines. But the concentration, focus and emphasis of the Pfizer and BioNTech partnership should have others on notice.
The Analyst & Firm
Ms. Graybosch has serious academic credentials, earning dual B.S. degrees in Biology and Chemistry from the University of Utah and PhD in Chemistry and Chemical Biology from Harvard University. She worked in industry (consulting) in McKinsey & Company as a Senior Expert and Head of their Center for Asset Optimization as well as Head of the McKinsey Cancer Center. SVB Leerink is a leading investment bank focused on healthcare and life sciences.