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Is Pfizer Giving Its Partner BioNTech the Shaft by Developing mRNA Vaccines on Its Own?

By Keith Speights and Brian Orelli, PhD - Apr 2, 2021 at 7:03AM

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Or could it be the other way around?

Pfizer (PFE 1.32%) CEO Albert Bourla recently stated in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the big drugmaker plans to develop messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines on its own going forward. That came as a surprise considering that Pfizer worked closely with its German partner BioNTech (BNTX 5.69%) to develop an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on March 24, 2021, Motley Fool contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli discuss whether or not Pfizer's move could hurt its smaller partner.

Keith Speights: Pfizer could be on the right path to develop mRNA vaccines on its own, but how bad is that potentially for its partner BioNTech? BioNTech has been working with Pfizer very closely on the COVID vaccines and they were also working on a flu vaccine together. Is this really bad news for the smaller biotech?

Brian Orelli: The multi-billion-dollar question is whether Pfizer is going off on its own or is it that BioNTech decided that they don't need Pfizer anymore. If it was a development-stage biotech, I'd say that their partner deciding that they didn't want to work on additional deals would be bad news. But BioNTech has a vaccine on the market. It's producing billions of dollars for the company. The capital allowed the company to set up its own manufacturing facility.

But what does a biotech really need from a pharma partner if it has capital and the ability to manufacture its drugs? No one is questioning when Moderna (MRNA 4.42%) is going to license its next pipeline candidate. The only difference is because BioNTech has a partner right now and Moderna went out on its own. But really honestly you can just argue that Moderna's partner was BARDA, the U.S. government that paid Moderna a lot of money to help set up its manufacturing capacity and get its vaccine through so quickly.

I see Moderna and BioNTech in the same boat where they have enough capital to go out on their own. Maybe the coronavirus goes away and we don't really need boosters but the companies have quite a big nest egg of capital to go and develop other drugs, maybe even they become unprofitable for a few years, but they still have that huge nest egg of capital that they can spend down as they're developing the next vaccines.

And then what's the worst that happens? The companies run out of money in a few years and then they can always license their drugs at that point, and they'll be able to get much better economics on the drugs because they'll be further along in the development, so they'll either be able to get bigger upfront payments or higher royalties depending on what the companies need.

Speights: Yeah, I think investors in general totally agree with what you just said, because BioNTech stock did drop after that Wall Street Journal interview came out. But it wasn't a huge drop. It was just, I think, low single digits, and so I think most investors realize exactly what you're saying, Brian, that BioNTech has a lot of potential on its own, and while having a big partner like Pfizer was certainly very helpful during the development of COVID-19 vaccine, going forward, the company should be able to continue and be successful. Like you said, it has a hefty cash stockpile and that will even grow over this year to carry it through for several more years.

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Stocks Mentioned

Pfizer Inc. Stock Quote
Pfizer Inc.
PFE
$51.34 (1.32%) $0.67
Moderna, Inc. Stock Quote
Moderna, Inc.
MRNA
$142.28 (4.42%) $6.02
BioNTech SE Stock Quote
BioNTech SE
BNTX
$159.80 (5.69%) $8.60

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