Pfizer Shows Its R&D Is Strong. That Makes Its Stock a Good Long-Term Bet. | PFE Message Board Posts


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Msg  999 of 1024  at  11/12/2021 1:08:34 PM  by

jerrykrause


Pfizer Shows Its R&D Is Strong. That Makes Its Stock a Good Long-Term Bet.

 

Pfizer Shows Its R&D Is Strong. That Makes Its Stock a Good Long-Term Bet.

 
 

Pfizer's chief scientific officer, Mikael Dolsten, sounded giddy when reached via telephone early Monday morning. It was just days after his company knocked the socks off the market with the news that its Covid-19 antiviral had cut the risk of hospitalization by 89% in high-risk adults.

"It can't be just a random thing, that you're able to beat this type of world record and get a grand slam at the same time by chance," Dolsten said, scrambling sports metaphors as he sought to illustrate the magnitude of Pfizer's twin wins: the development of a stunningly effective Covid-19 vaccine in just 10 months, followed a year later by the development of a similarly stunning Covid-19 antiviral.

Two years ago, Pfizer (ticker: PFE) CEO Albert Bourla asked investors to take a big gamble on the research-and-development operation that Dolsten has rebuilt over the course of more than a decade. That bet is looking smarter than ever.

Bourla has gotten rid of Pfizer's off-patent drugs division and the last of its consumer health products, leaving behind a pure-play biopharma company that will live or die on the strength of Dolsten's science.

In a cover story in November 2019 , Barron's argued that Bourla and Dolsten could pull it off.

The new antiviral data reaffirms the case for Pfizer that Barron's made two years ago. Continuing to profit off the pandemic, however, brings new risks, as criticism grows over the global inequity in vaccine distribution. Low-income nations account for less than 1% of the more than seven billion doses administered worldwide. If distribution of Pfizer's antiviral continues to favor wealthy nations, the company's stock could ultimately suffer.

Pfizer's shares surged 10.9% the day the data came out, their best daily showing in at least 20 years. Still, with the stock now changing hands at around $50, investors continue to undervalue the company. Investors are pricing Pfizer at 12 times next year's expected earnings, cheaper than peers like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Eli Lilly (LLY).

The Pfizer discount can be attributed to concerns over the patent cliff the drugmaker faces at the end of the decade. The company stands to lose exclusivity over a handful of drugs that bring in billions in annual revenue.

The worries are legitimate, but Pfizer's scientific coup should give investors confidence that the company's science can carry it safely over that cliff. It may take time for the market to catch up, but for long-term investors, it's a promising opportunity.

The success of the antiviral is the best illustration yet of Pfizer's scientific prowess.

While Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine came out of the labs of the German biotech BioNTech (BNTX), the new Covid-19 antiviral was whipped up by what Dolsten called a "dream team" of scientists at Pfizer's own labs across the Northeast U.S.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, Pfizer split its efforts between its collaboration with BioNTech on the vaccine and its quest for a Covid-19 pill. The vaccine effort operated on a huge scale; Dolsten called it a "mega team" that spanned the Atlantic.

The antiviral project was a much smaller operation—a group of Pfizer experts operating with resources left over from the vaccine push.

"The small molecule was more like a nimble, laser-focused, high-end team, with rather moderate resources," Dolsten said.

Dolsten gathered some of Pfizer's most experienced scientists to work on the antiviral project, including its head of medicine design, Charlotte Allerton. The scientists started with work Pfizer had done years ago on a type of antiviral called a protease inhibitor .

The protease inhibitors in the Pfizer library, however, had been administered intravenously, and had not worked well when delivered orally. The team had to figure out how to adapt the drugs to oral administration, a substantial undertaking.

"They had to really create a lot of new chemistry," Dolsten said. The scientists created 600 compounds to nail down the right drug, a process that might normally take years, and which they accomplished in a matter of months. "Four years turned into four months here," he said.

Pfizer started testing the pill in humans in March. It is now running a number of Phase 2/3 trials of the drug, including one for patients who are high risk, one for patients not high risk, and one as a prophylaxis for patients who have been exposed to the virus but aren't yet sick. In the first readout, the drug looked substantially more effective than the Covid treatment pill from Merck (MRK).

"It definitely helps prove the point that [Pfizer's] pharmaceutical R&D is better than people had thought," says Louise Chen, an analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, who has an Overweight rating and a $61 price target on the stock.

Chen says that she doesn't expect investors to come around to her way of thinking until there is more clarity on the durability of Covid-19 vaccine and pill sales, and the rest of the pipeline gets proved out.

"There is not one event that I think will trigger a re-rating of the stock at the next level," she says. "Until those things play out, I don't think that it necessarily will."

That makes a bet on Pfizer a long-term play. In the meantime, the experience of Moderna (MRNA) in recent weeks is highlighting the potential for the vaccine makers to come under scrutiny over unequal distribution of vaccines.

Biden administration officials have been increasingly frustrated with Moderna, calling on the company to ramp up production so it can offer more doses at not-for-profit prices to low-income countries, with one top official calling on the company to "step up."

Moderna shares are down more than 40% over the past three months.

As the pandemic persists, Pfizer risks eroding the enormous goodwill it earned roughly a year ago when it introduced its Covid-19 vaccine. Earlier this month, Pfizer CEO Bourla blamed low-income countries for unfair vaccine distribution, telling Barron's that it was their fault for not placing orders. Pfizer has sold a billion vaccine doses to the U.S. at a not-for-profit price to donate to poor countries, and says that a total of at least two billion doses will be delivered to low- and middle-income nations by the end of next year.

When it comes to antivirals, Pfizer has said only that it will offer tiered pricing for poorer nations, the same approach it has taken with its vaccine.

That contrasts sharply with Merck's plan to make its own Covid-19 pill available to poor countries. Merck has signed a deal with a United Nations-backed group that will allow its pill to be licensed globally, with no royalties paid to Merck.

Dolsten said that Pfizer is looking into licensing its pill under a similar mechanism as Merck's. "We will look at those options," he said. "By no means have we said we would do something different. We just want to make sure whoever will be involved gets the advice and skill to do this."

Such a step couldn't come soon enough. Late last month, activists protested outside Bourla's home, calling on Pfizer to share its vaccine manufacturing technology and to fill orders from low-income countries ahead of those from wealthy countries.

An aggressive plan to share its antiviral would help stave off such criticism, keeping Pfizer in the relative good graces of Washington and allowing its impressive science to continue to drive the stock higher.

 


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