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LONG HAUL

Pfizer plans on selling its new covid drug for years to come

A person walks past a Pfizer logo in New York City
Reuters/Carlo Allegri
It’s only just begun.
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Pfizer says its new antiviral drug against covid-19, ritonavir, is highly effective against the most serious cases of covid-19.

Preliminary results show the drug, a pill that will be sold under the brand name Paxlovid, cuts the risk of hospitalization and death by 89% in patients at high risk of developing severe covid-19 when administered within three days of the onset of symptoms. Patients received a dose of ritonavir every 12 hours for five days.

Given the encouraging result of the trial, the company plans to submit the results of the trial to the US Food and Drugs Administration as soon as possible to ask for emergency authorization.

The news caps a week of updates in covid-19 treatments. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved the administration of the Pfizer vaccine, Corminaty, for children aged five to 11, unlocking a potential market for 56 million more doses of the vaccine. In the UK, Merck’s oral antiviral drug, molnupiravir, which cuts the risk of hospitalization and death by 50%, obtained marketing approval. It will be sold with the name Lagevrio, and is the first oral drug approved specifically for the treatment of covid.

Pfizer’s prepping for endemic covid

On Nov. 2,  only hours before the CDC approved its vaccine for children, Pfizer reported 130% growth in quarterly revenue compared to the same period in 2020. The growth was mostly due to its covid-19 vaccine, now expected to generate revenues of $36 billion by the end of 2021.

On a conference call with analysts and investors, the company shared that it now has the capacity to produce 4 billion doses of vaccine in 2022. It already has contracts with governments for 1.7 billion doses and is working to procure more. The excess capacity readied for vaccine production, as well as the $1 billion investment the company made in ritonavir, is a clear indication Pfizer expects covid will be a part of the medical landscape for years to come.

The company is preparing for a near-future where covid-19 is endemic—that is, occurring regularly—in much, if not all, of the world.  And while the booster dose of the vaccine generates better immunity, including against more recently emerged variants of the virus, its effect is expected to fade after about a year. Pfizer is already making plans for ongoing routine immunizations. “We already now are preparing for revaccination, when the third boost immunity may start to fade possibly after a year, which we think would…support an annual vaccination, similar to the flu,” said Mikael Dolsten, the company’s chief scientific officer.

And of course, as long as covid-19 is endemic, there is a need for therapeutics such as ritonavir to treat the cases that escape vaccine protection.

“As long as you have covid around, you will have a need to vaccinate and protect. And then you will have a need to treat and save lives…given that covid is in so many parts of the globe, I think we are speaking about years,” said Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla in the call.

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