Drugmakers' stocks drop on talks of waiving vaccine patent protection
BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc. have the capacity to make as many as 3 billion doses of their COVID-19 vaccine this year, lifting their production target even as pressure mounts to waive their patents to boost global supply.
In 2022, the partners will further increase their capacity to more than 3 billion doses, BioNTech said in an e-mailed statement. Though the production goals aren’t the same as firm orders, the increases more than double what the partners had said they’d be able to make less than six months ago.
As demand soars for messenger RNA COVID vaccines -- a new technology that has become a mainstay of the immunization effort -- Pfizer and BioNTech have repeatedly bumped up their production goals. The partners had said in March they could make 2.5 billion doses of their two-shot vaccine this year.
The latest boost comes after the U.S. government surprised the drug industry by announcing its support for a waiver of patent protections for COVID vaccines. The European Union and China signaled willingness to take part in the debate, though EU officials have cautioned that World Trade Organization negotiations will take months or years and that a waiver may not include mRNA technology.
Shares of BioNTech and other vaccine developers trimmed earlier declines after German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back against the effort to waive patent protections. The U.S. plan would create “severe complications” for the production of vaccines, according to a German government spokeswoman.
“Patents are not the limiting factor for the production or supply of our vaccine,” BioNTech said in the statement, arguing that a waiver wouldn’t increase production and supply in the short and mid-term. Setting up and validating new vaccine manufacturing sites usually takes as long as a year, the company said.
One alternative to giving up patent rights would be a special license for manufacturers, Chief Executive Officer Ugur Sahin said at a briefing with journalists last week. Such production also wouldn’t contribute much to supply until the end of next year, he said.