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Pfizer authorizes $1 billion for oral COVID-19 treatment, CEO says

·Senior Reporter
·3-min read
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Pfizer (PFE) CEO Albert Bourla is betting big on repeating the success of its COVID-19 vaccine with an experimental oral treatment — and he's putting the company's money where its mouth is.

Bourla told Yahoo Finance Wednesday the company is committing $1 billion to develop the oral treatment — a protease inhibitor — which would give the world an easy-to-use, targeted treatment, hopefully by year's end.

The current market for COVID-19 treatments includes monoclonal antibodies and some repurposed drugs, including generics and Gilead Sciences' (GILD) Veklury (formerly Remdesivir) - all of which require being in a hospital or clinic to receive treatment.

Last year, Pfizer jolted the race for a coronavirus shot with its $2 billion commitment, at risk, to develop the COVID-19 vaccine in partnership with BioNTech (BNTX). The approach was different from competitors relying on government funding from what was then Operation Warp Speed, to help with R&D costs. 

On Wednesday, the company projected total COVID-19 vaccine revenue could top $33.5 billion for 2021. Of that, Pfizer estimates its cut - after sharing 50% royalties with BioNTech, covering costs and taxes - to be in a range of $8.4 billion to $9.7 billion.

In an earnings call Wednesday, chief scientific officer Mikael Dolsten said Phase 2/3 trials began in July and the company anticipates an emergency use authorization submission in the fourth quarter.

"The goal is to reduce SARS-Cov-2 viral load, thereby hopefully decreasing or preventing symptoms of COVID-19 and minimizing the risk of hospitalization," Dolsten said.

The study focuses on infected patients, and could include anywhere from a five to 10-day treatment course, depending on whether or not the person is exposed to a person with COVID-19, or is just starting to exhibit symptoms of infection.

The push to take on a more nimble, risky pipeline, for the 170-year-old pharma giant, has been a signature of Bourla's since he took the helm of the pharma giant in 2019.

The company was also said to be absorbing too much risk by keeping its COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing in-house, rather than lean on contract manufacturing organizations or partners as others, like Moderna (MRNA) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) did.

"We de-risked, because for every part of the manufacturing, we had at least two sides of Pfizer doing it - one in Europe, one in the U.S," Bourla told Yahoo Finance.

"So if something goes wrong with one, we can continue with the other," he added.

This, the CEO said, was less risky than relying on partners who may or may not be reliable — as J&J discovered when it ran into trouble with Emergent BioSolutions. The issue forced the pharma giant to jettison 60 million doses of its one-shot vaccine amid possible contamination at a Baltimore factory.

"It was proven that our approach was the successful one," Bourla told Yahoo Finance. "We haven't lost a single box of our vaccine."

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