Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” (M-F, 6AM-9AM ET) today, Monday, November 29th. Following is a link to video on CNBC.com:
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Pfizer Could Have A New Vaccine Against Omicron Covid Variant In Less Than 100 Days, CEO Albert Bourla Says
MEG TIRRELL: Well Andrew, thanks so much. Albert Borla, the CEO of Pfizer joins us now. Albert, it’s really great to have you on with us this morning and I want to start by asking you about PAXLOVID, your Covid anti-viral drug that's, that's in development. I learned this morning you guys now anticipate you can make 80 million courses up from the projected 50 million you'd expected just a few weeks ago. Tell us about that ability to increase that manufacturing in your expectation of how well this should hold up against Omicron.
ALBERT BOURLA: Yeah, thank you. Yes, that's true. We are right now clearly can commit 80 million doses. It is thanks to, you have seen our manufacturing machine really at work and they just can make it and I'm very, very pleased that we are in this situation. Now, when it comes to Omicron and how the treatments should last. First of all, let me take a step back. I think Omicron is of concern for several reasons, right. But there are a lot of unknown things right now and keep in mind that we have been preparing for something like that for months. And what is the playbook the playbook is to understand a little bit better and then within weeks, I think we will know most of the information that needs to be known but every day we learn more, then to protect and then to treat. And to understand the virus, I think we need, the key questions are the questions that we are discussing all day today I mean, what is the clinical manifestation? Is it more severe? Is it less? Is it going to be spreading faster or not? The second is are the vaccines going to protect against this new virus given it has mutations in the spike and this is where most of the vaccines are working. And the third is are the treatments going to be protected. On the third one, that needs to be seen but the good news in when it comes to our treatment, it is that it was designed with that in mind. It was designed with, with, with the fact that most mutations are coming in the spikes or the mechanism of actions that they’re having is not related to the spike. So that gives me very, very high level of confidence that the treatment will not be affected, our oral treatment will not be affected by this virus. When it comes to the vaccine, remains to be seen. I don't think that the result will be the vaccines don't protect. I think the results could be, which we don't know yet, that the vaccines protect less, which means that if the vaccines protect less, it is that if we need to create a new vaccine. Already, we started Friday. Friday, we made our first DNA template which is the first part of the manufacturing of the development process of a new vaccine, and we have made multiple times clear that we will be able to have a vaccine in less than 100 days. In fact, we have already two vaccines built in less than 100 days. We build one for Delta, that we did not use because the current vaccine is very effective against Delta and we built one for Beta which also we didn’t have to use so we will build one at risk right now for Omicron that will be used only in case we need it if we see that the current one doesn't work.
TIRRELL: So, you say on Friday, you started building that new template for an Omicron specific vaccine if needed. Tell us about the tests that your scientists and your, your partner's at BioNTech and others are running right now to understand how well the current vaccines will hold up both with the two-dose primary series and then also with a booster.
BOURLA: Yes, we are going to test this new virus how serum from people that weren't vaccinated either with the two doses of our current vaccine or with the three doses of our current vaccine or with vaccines that we have made from Delta or Beta respond and then based on information on that, we will see if and what is needed to be done in terms of developing or not the new vaccine. Also, we have a very high surveillance system keep in mind, right, both in South Africa but also, you know, that in Israel, they are likely the healthcare authority that they have the most reliable data right now and we are monitoring to see also in real time when that will happen. Keep in mind that I'm quite confident because we got the dose right with our vaccine. We from, from the first moment right so we have 30 micrograms that were the two doses were very good and we didn't have to reduce the dose for the third one. So, it's full dose that we are giving for the, for the boosters already so that should provide very high protection levels. But as I said, in I don't think, I don't know if it will be equally effective at 95 plus percent against the Omicron. But I don't think, I will be very surprised if we are very, very, very low. And as I said if it is low enough, within 95 days basically, we will have a new vaccine. And keep in mind—
TIRRELL: And what is your expectation—
BOURLA: It's a game changer right now because it's not the same situation. It's not the same situation. When you have a treatment that instead of 10 people going to hospital, only one will go to the hospital. Instead of people dying, basically no one dies. So, it's very, very, very different story now.
TIRRELL: Because of the, the antiviral treatment. Are you getting more incoming inquiries than you already were from governments around the world about the antiviral drug because of the fears around Omicron?
BOURLA: I think that it's not because of the fears against Omicron. Basically, there is no government that they didn't call after we, the results of the study were, were announced that 90% efficacy and they are all right now placing orders for that.
BECKY QUICK: The antiviral pill, PAXLOVID. I mean I think so many people have been looking at this as such a great beacon of hope, especially for people who are immunocompromised because if it's not working with the vaccine, you want to make sure that you can take it if you do get this if your immune system is not working, but I read something in STAT today that concerned me. I have someone who I love who's dealing with cancer and I know that this is the same for a lot of our viewers too. Those are the people who we've been so worried about and so protective of and trying to make sure that they don't get it. I read something in STAT today though that PAXLOVID can actually react to cancer treatments so if you are a cancer patient and you are going through some sort of treatment, PAXLOVID because it's a protease inhibitor can actually interact with some of those. Is that the case? And can you tell us more about that?
BOURLA: Frankly, in my case, the first time I hear that. I'm going to look at it but—
QUICK: I just read it this morning in STAT and they're a pretty reliable publication but if you haven't heard of it, that makes me feel a little better too.
BOURLA: Yeah, but they are very reliable and we need to see. I don't exclude that this is the case, but I haven't heard it before.
QUICK: Okay, thanks.
JOE KERNEN: Hey Albert, is there anything that we don't know that you know about another target for some type of therapeutic that would go into some type of maybe cocktail like we've seen in dealing with previous viruses. We're talking about the protease inhibitor. I'm wondering how quickly you could see a mutation around that it seems like it's highly conserved. There's no reason to think that that this new variant, that that protease inhibitor would be any different than the one in Delta or the original COVID but are you at this point, you have other targets that you're working on that you just haven't told us about at this point that the that might be used in a combination with, with what looks to be very promising already?
BOURLA: That's a very, very good question and as I said, we designed that the current one with that in mind so that we'll be able not to develop resistance when the virus mutates, because as you know, all so far, the mutations that we have seen in variants of concerns are in the spike and this antiviral has nothing to do with the spike. It works in a very different mechanism and in fact, the mechanism that it works which is inhibits the protease in the virus is such that this protease, it is very vital for the virus to survive so it's very difficult for the virus to create a mutation that doesn't need this protease and so that the drug will not work. So, I'm very, very, very confident that this drug works for all known mutations, including the Omicron one, but we are working on follow up drugs for the eventual case that maybe a resistance is developed.
KERNEN: So, are there other things that other targets, there's polymerase, I mean, I don't know it's a very small genome, obviously, there's not a lot of different proteins that are that are coded for in COVID. But it’s, there would be something else I figure you could use for some type of cocktail. Is there anything else that you're not telling us about that Pfizer researchers are working on, Albert?
BOURLA: Nothing that will be announced in let's say next week, but we are already working with and this is, you need to know, a standard practice when we're doing antivirus. Already, we are working on second and third generations.
ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Albert, wanted to also separately just ask you about cost and cost of the antiviral. We've talked about it before, but if in fact, the antiviral pills become the, you know, a critical component of this especially if the vaccines don't have the same kind of efficacy, could you see pricing come down? Would you, would you consider rethinking the pricing? Because as we know, you know, a vaccine might be $20, $30. This antiviral pills could be, you know, 10 times, 10, more than 10 times that I think we're talking about $600 or $700.
BOURLA: Yes, you're right. But you know, we went out with the pricing to all the governments that takes that into consideration. You need to know the price of this antiviral despite the very, very high efficacy. It is almost 1/3 of what the prices of the antibiotics out there are. So, it's, it's really, very cost effective right now for the system given the hospitalizations that will be avoided. And keep in mind that in we waive the patents completely for the low-income countries, so there should not be price or intellectual property for anyone to make.
KERNEN: So Albert, if you do sort of adapt your vaccine all the time and we can do it quickly and you're able to do that sort of in a flu vaccine type fashion to the new variants from COVID, do you foresee that this would be, would you call it a booster? We'd get another booster every year or would be a modified booster that that would provide a better antigenic response than, than the original vaccine? Do you see this happening every year? We either get a booster, regular booster of the same vaccine or a slightly different vaccine every year to deal with what we're seeing with these mutations? Is that, is that what you foresee? It's almost like a, I mean for Pfizer, you'd be selling these things every year. Not that you want to do that, I'm sure you're not hoping for that but almost like an annuity for Pfizer.
BOURLA: I did make a projection months ago that the most likely scenario, it is that we will need after the third dose annual revaccinations against COVID for multiple reasons because of the immunity that will be waning, because of the virus that I'm sure will be maintained around the world for the years to come and also because of the need of variants that will emerge. I'm more confident right now that this will be the case than I was when I made the projection. I think we are going to have an annual revaccination. I don't know how we're going to call it but will be an annual revaccination and that should be able to keep us really safe.
TIRRELL: Albert, just trying to take a step back and sort of a big picture view of things. As you learned about this variant emerging and the information that exists about it, as limited as it is, what is your level of concern about it at this point?
BOURLA: With Omicron you mean?
BOURLA: Look, I'm concerned. But as I said, we have been preparing for that. We have to start with a treatment, if things goes wrong, right, and we can’t provide protection, which I don't think will be the case, we have a treatment that will work against this virus that can be taken home. You don't need to go to the hospital, that’s one. Secondly, we have done it twice. We were able to create in 95 days a new vaccine tailormade to new variants. We will, we started already making for the third time, which is this one. So, if the current dose which is very likely that three doses from the current vaccine will keep us well protected, but I repeat, three doses of the current vaccine will keep us well protected. But if we find out this is not enough, before the virus starts emerging in those places, in let's say, in more places in the world than becoming the big one, we should be able to have one developed. The third, manufacturing. We have been working for that, with that in mind, this is the playbook. How can we switch manufacturing of a new vaccine to so that we will not lose volume capacity and we have been reached the level almost overnight so we will be able to switch our manufacturing capacity and the line that was producing before the old vaccine. Within two days, we'll start producing the new vaccine with no loss of volume and I repeat, we have reached the capacity of a billion doses third quarter. Already this quarter, we made a billion doses so next year, it is almost in the pocket 4 billion doses that we can make. If there is a need for a new one, we will make almost 4 billion doses of the new one so with that in mind that availability will not be an issue, that the efficacy is very high, that there are treatments around. No, I am optimistic, we have been preparing for that and we are going to, to win this battle as well.
TIRRELL: Alright, some optimism is what we need. Albert, thank you so much for being with us this morning and we hope to have you back soon as we get more information about the vaccines in this variant. Thanks again.
BOURLA: Stay well.