Pfizer on Tuesday said it expects global sales of its coronavirus vaccine to reach $26 billion in 2021, a milestone that would make it the biggest-selling pharmaceutical product in the world and helps illustrate why Pfizer is planning to expand use of mRNA technology for other vaccines and therapies.
Sales of its mRNA vaccine are likely to eclipse Humira, the rheumatoid arthritis drug made by AbbVie, with annual revenue around $20 billion, currently the world’s top seller. Pfizer had $3.5 billion in coronavirus vaccine sales in the first quarter.
Pfizer, which is in partnership with Germany’s BioNTech for vaccine development and sales, has said it expects to manufacture 2.5 billion doses of the two-shot vaccine in 2021. It has agreements to sell 300 million to the United States by late summer.
The company is working on creating seasonal flu shots using the same RNA lipid nanoparticle technology, which has vaulted from lab benches and a single drug for a rare disease a year ago into the most effective vaccine that is in demand worldwide.
“Pfizer has emerged as a leader in mRNA development, and we are exploring a wide range of opportunities for the technology,” chief executive Albert Bourla said Tuesday in a conference call for investors. Without disclosing specifics, he said the company is working on other vaccines for infectious diseases as well as creating a research pipeline for therapeutics for cancer and genetic diseases.
Pfizer and Moderna, its rival in the mRNA coronavirus vaccine business, have said they intend to make a profit on vaccine sales during the pandemic. Both of the vaccines have proved that mRNA can be used to develop and manufacture a vaccine in as little as six months.
Pfizer is making bulk quantities of its vaccine at its own plants in the United States and Europe.
Moderna, which is relying on contract manufacturers to make bulk vaccine, also in Europe and the United States, has said it is on track to make 800 million to 1 billion doses in 2021 and up to 3 billion doses in 2022.
Both companies have said they expect their vaccines will remain in demand for at least several years as coronavirus variants proliferate around the world and people require booster shots to maintain immunity after their initial doses.
More traditional vaccines manufactured by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have suffered from delays and manufacturing stumbles, including a cross-contamination episode at a Baltimore plant of biodefense contractor Emergent BioSolutions. AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have said they do not intend to profit from their vaccines during the pandemic.
A previous version of this article incorrectly characterized a drug utilizing RNA technology that received approval before 2020 for use in the United States. That drug uses sRNA technology, not mRNA technology. This version has been corrected.