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Pfizer: How the inventor of Viagra became the world's leading producer of the Covid vaccine

2021-05-11T10:38:02.109Z

In less than a year, the American laboratory behind the famous blue pill in the 1990s has multiplied its capacity for



One is the subject of legal proceedings by the European Commission for its delivery delays.

The other has become the world's leading producer of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The contrast between the trajectory of AstraZeneca and that of Pfizer is striking.

Ironically, the first laboratory was almost bought by the second in 2014.

In the fight against the virus, Pfizer is leading the way. Enough to restore the image of this “big pharma”, whose image has been tarnished by resounding trials. Founded in New York in 1849 by Charles Pfizer, a chemist of German origin, and his cousin Charles Erhart, confectioner, the company owes its very first success to the commercialization of a drug against intestinal worms.

The idea of ​​genius?

Mask the bitter taste with a sweet coating with a nutty flavor.

We also owe him another invention, in the 1990s this time: Viagra, a prodigious commercial success discovered almost by chance during a series of clinical trials on a treatment intended to cure… angina pectoris.

A year before his patent fell into the public domain in 2011, the little blue pill had brought his laboratory more than 1.6 billion euros.

Charles Pfizer, a German-born chemist, founded the firm that bears his name in 1849. Photo12 / Alamy / Reading Room 2020

Ten years later, relying on a network of several dozen production plants and 100,000 employees in 150 countries, Pfizer was able to deliver in the first quarter of this year some 67 million doses of vaccine against the Covid-19 in the European Union (EU).

Pending delivery of 50 million additional doses in the second quarter.

And it's not over: this Saturday, Saturday, Ursula von der Leyen has formalized the conclusion of a new mega-contract.

At stake: a firm order for 900 million doses and an option for an additional 900 million, until 2023. What allow, according to the President of the European Commission, to adapt to new variants of the coronavirus.

But also to vaccinate children and adolescents.

The 27 Member States will thus have received more than 250 million doses by June, making the alliance between Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, Europe's number one supplier.

The alliance with BioNtech, the keystone of success

Of the billion people already vaccinated worldwide, a majority have been vaccinated by Pfizer.

How to explain such a success?

“Our partnership with BioNTech is based on a collaboration initiated in 2018 to develop messenger RNA vaccines against influenza,” recalls Pfizer France.

For Steve Pascolo, immunologist and messenger RNA pioneer, this alliance is the keystone.

“Without it, none of this could have happened,” believes this former researcher from CureVac, now director of research at the University Hospital of Zurich (Switzerland).

It is thanks to BioNTech that the vaccine was approved, barely a year after the publication of the genome

(Editor's note: the genetic material encoded in DNA)

of the virus.

"

Of the billion people vaccinated worldwide, a majority have been vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

LP / Jean-Baptiste Quentin

Pfizer's tour de force is to then have succeeded in carrying out the various stages downstream in a short period of time and on a very large scale.

First of all, clinical trials.

“Traditionally, we carry them out sequentially,” explains Pfizer France headquarters.

Each stage does not start until after the end of the previous one.

In this case, given the urgency, with our partner BioNTech, we decided to revolutionize our habits and launch several stages at the same time.

"

The industrialization phase followed suit.

The Puurs site (Belgium) illustrates the rise of the production system.

Logistics were put in place in record time in order to successfully deliver the 280 raw materials required for the composition of the vaccine.

This required the mobilization of around 100 suppliers in around 20 countries.

The substance based on messenger RNA is, for example, shipped from Pfizer's American site located in Chesterfield in Missouri (United States).

Giant freezers, new formulation rooms or high speed filling lines had to be installed urgently.

This can reduce, as at all other sites, the time between the start of production and the availability of the bottles from 110 to 60 days.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Pfizer produced 200 million doses of vaccine each year at all of its sites.

“For this year, our initial objective was to produce 1.3 billion doses for the vaccine against Covid alone, recalls the management.

It was finally almost doubled, to 2.5 billion.

"

For 2022, Pfizer has the same ambitions as its competitor Moderna: to produce three billion doses.

"We have thus multiplied our production by 10 in less than a year," explains David Lepoittevin, spokesperson for Pfizer France.

It is undoubtedly the most important expansion of production capacities in our history, if not of the entire pharmaceutical industry.

"No impact on the production and availability of other drugs manufactured by Pfizer," says management.

Among the top 10 most innovative companies

"Pfizer was able to make good use of the $ 2 billion

(Editor's note; 1.22 billion euros)

paid by the American government as part of Operation Warp Speed

(Editor's note: in reference to the television series" Star Trek " , to evoke travel at the speed of light)

”, analyzes the health economist Nathalie Coutinet.

It was launched by the Trump administration in May 2020, with the support of the Barda (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority), the post-September 11, 2001 public agency to fight pandemics and bioterrorism.

Result: This year Pfizer made a sensational entry into the top 10 of the ranking of the most innovative companies, produced each year by the American firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Viagra has been a real economic success for Pfizer.

AFP / David Darrault

A hard-won position that the laboratory intends to maintain beyond the pandemic.

What also to forget the dark hours of its history?

Starting with the case of the “Nigerian guinea pigs” in 1996, where illegal tests had been carried out on 200 children, in Kano State.

Eleven of them were dead.

In 2009, an agreement was reached and Pfizer pledged to pay more than 60 million euros in compensation to the victims.

John le Carré was inspired by it for his novel "The Gardener's Constance".

In total since the early 2000s, the American laboratory has been forced to pay nearly 4 billion euros in fines in several court cases.

Including nearly 1.9 billion euros in 2009 for “fraudulent commercial practices”.

This constitutes to date the biggest fine ever imposed by the American justice on a pharmaceutical group.

Read also "Pfizer is developing two drugs against Covid"

Old history for the laboratory which intends to preserve its image as the first bulwark against the virus.

A posture that pays off since its vaccine will help this year to consolidate at least a quarter of its turnover, to around 12.3 billion euros, out of nearly 50 billion euros, according to the laboratory's forecasts.

Its leaders, starting with its CEO Albert Bourla, are slowly preparing minds - and governments - for the possibility of continuous vaccination, modeled on influenza campaigns, to effectively fight against variants.

What to ensure, if the good results of the studies in progress are confirmed, a comfortable pension for a good time.

Source: leparis

All business articles on 2021-05-11

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