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Pfizer and BioNTech strengthen partnership: Companies look to build on astronomical success of COVID-19 vaccine

In 2020, Pfizer and BioNTech successfully developed the first approved and most widely used mRNA vaccine to help prevent COVID-19. By the end of Q3 2021, over two billion doses of the vaccine had been delivered to more than 152 countries worldwide. The two companies have stated that they expect to have delivered 2.5 billion doses in total in 2021. Both companies have reaped huge financial rewards on the back of this. Pfizer has seen a significant growth in revenue in the first three quarters of 2021, with an increase of 90.6% in the first nine months of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020. Similarly, BioNTech has reported a huge leap in revenue in 2021, with this reaching EUR13,444.2m ($15,332.9m) in the first nine months of 2021, up from EUR136.9m ($156.1m) in the same period of 2020.

Following the success of the COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer and BioNTech have announced a new collaboration agreement to develop the first mRNA-based vaccine for the prevention of shingles. Together the companies will partner on the research, development and marketing of the new vaccine. The partnership will leverage BioNTech’s mRNA platform technology used in the COVID-19 vaccine and Pfizer’s antigen technology. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is currently the only company that has developed a vaccine against shingles. Shingrix was approved in 2017 and is over 90% effective in the prevention of shingles.

However, GSK has struggled to increase production of Shingrix in order to meet demand. This is where Pfizer and BioNTech have the ability to outmaneuver the company. Together, Pfizer and BioNTech have faced the challenge of developing a vaccine quickly and to cope with the demand of a global pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, the typical development of a vaccine would follow a much longer timescale. However, the pandemic created the need for rapid development and a significant ramping up of production capabilities.

mRNA vaccine development requires large quantities of cationic lipid. This isn’t a lipid that has previously been readily available. As such, Pfizer began mass development of the lipid, rather than sourcing it from external suppliers. This will stand Pfizer and BioNTech in good stead to develop an mRNA shingles vaccine on a mass scale. As companies that have collaborated and swiftly rolled out a mass vaccination program on a global scale, Pfizer and BioNTech are well placed to take the lead. GSK looks set to be left behind when it comes to the shingles vaccine.