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Jul 28, 2020

Pfizer's October target in vaccine race scrutinized by Street

Paul Harris discusses Pfizer

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Wall Street analysts and specialists are weighing the possibility that Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE may file their COVID-19 vaccine candidate with regulators by October after the pair said a late-stage COVID-19 vaccine study kicked off on Monday evening.

Pfizer rose Tuesday on the announcement with its German partner, just hours after similar news from Moderna Inc. With AstraZeneca Plc already in Phase 3, it’s a “three-horse race,” Jared Holz said from the Jefferies health-care trading desk. “The government involvement makes us think we could hear anecdotal reports of trial progress even before the interim data is available later in the year,” he wrote to clients.

Holz expects at least one vaccine will get an emergency use authorization before November, which many have thought may give President Donald Trump a new foothold in the election as his polling numbers slip in favor of Democratic contender Joe Biden. But not everyone is as optimistic over an October timeline.

UBS analyst Navin Jacob said Pfizer’s program may have a “slight edge” over Moderna, but a Centers for Disease Control adviser that Jacob spoke with cast doubts about the October target. Some on Wall Street also reflected surprise that the vaccine candidate Pfizer and BioNTech selected was not the same shot that investors had seen detailed data from.

Pfizer rose as much as 2.7 per cent on Tuesday after posting second-quarter earnings that topped estimates and increasing its sales forecast.

UBS, Navin Jacob

Jacob spoke to an expert from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, who said an autumn 2020 readout from a Phase 3 trial would be “a stretch” as the rate of new infections for patients in the trial would likely be too slow. He predicted an initial look at results was more likely to come in the first half of next year.

Jacob said Pfizer’s international study may have an advantage over Moderna’s U.S. based study if the trial is in areas where COVID-19 is quickly spreading. He was also positive on the results seen so far which seem to indicate the BNT162 program “may have slightly better efficacy.”

SVB Leerink, Geoffrey Porges

The selection of BNT162b2, “though a clear possibility,” according to Porges, “was somewhat of a surprise given the companies shared detailed data for BNT162b1, which vaccinates against the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein.” He expects the decision was driven by potentially better immune responses in older adults.

“All leading companies are now targeting the spike protein, highlighting correlated clinical risk and long-term market erosion risk,” Porges said. That concentration calls into question the long-term viability of a market for these vaccines, he said.

Pfizer’s vaccine appears to be enrolling in hotspots amid state reopenings, “inclusion of all these sites could increase the speed for enrollment, as well as shorten the time for accumulating enough events.”

Barclays, Carter Gould

“We previously viewed recent BNT162b1 data as the most promising vaccine candidate to date, and b2 at least directionally appears to have a better profile,” though the analyst notes more details are needed.

He expects further characterization of BNT162b2, as well as details on the recent US$1.95 billion contract with the U.S., and EU efforts to secure access, to be discussed on Tuesday’s call.

Pfizer’s call is set to start at 10 a.m. in New York.

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