Pfizer's (PFE 0.76%) success in developing an effective COVID-19 vaccine in record time has given the pharmaceutical giant the confidence to invest heavily in the technology that underpins that vaccine. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, CEO Albert Bourla revealed that Pfizer plans to become a leader in the development of new vaccines that rely on messenger RNA (mRNA).

Unfortunately for BioNTech (BNTX 0.43%), those plans don't rely on a continuation of the collaboration agreement that brought the world its first authorized mRNA-based vaccine. According to Bourla, Pfizer doesn't need to work with BioNTech anymore because it has the expertise to develop those new vaccines on its own.

Scientist working alone in a lab.

Image source: Getty Images.

Pfizer still has options to license two more BioNTech vaccines, one directed against cytomegalovirus (CMV) and another meant to prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Despite a great deal of effort over the past 50 years, there still aren't any effective vaccines approved to protect against those viruses. 

If Pfizer can rapidly develop new mRNA vaccines as Bourla suggests, it's easy to see why the company would rather strike out on its own. Pfizer and BioNTech are splitting the profits on BNT162b2 evenly at the moment. It's hard to say how much will hit their bottom lines, but the partners expect sales of the COVID-19 vaccine to reach around $15 billion this year.

If it turns out that annual booster shots are not needed, coronavirus vaccine sales could taper off significantly before the end of 2022, then dwindle to nearly nothing by 2024. BioNTech will have plenty of cash to fund the development of new mRNA drugs on its own, but competing with Pfizer will be a challenge. Bourla also said Pfizer intends to apply recently learned lessons to develop new mRNA vaccines at a blistering pace in the future.