Pfizer CEO Bourla: Omicron-Specific Covid Vaccine Will Be Ready By March

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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, January 10th. Following is a link to video on

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Pfizer CEO Bourla: Omicron-Specific Covid Vaccine Will Be Ready By March

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Welcome back to “Squawk Box.” All day today, CNBC brings you the biggest names from the virtual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. Meg Tirrell joins us with another very special guest this morning. Meg.

MEG TIRRELL: Andrew, thanks so much. That's Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer. Albert, thanks for being with us this morning. You know, seeing the news out from Pfizer today, you're announcing a trio of deals, really focusing on mRNA. Of course, you also expanded your relationship with BioNTech SE (NASDAQ:BNTX) focusing on a shingles vaccine last week. So tell us about this strategy for Pfizer and expanding in messenger RNA and how much of a driver of your business going forward you expect that to be?

ALBERT BOURLA: Well, I think it’s going to be a driver of finding solutions to unmet medical needs, and we have a very strong belief that the mRNA is a very powerful technology. All we do, it is trying to harness this technology for, for the best of mankind. This is very strategical selected, all these agreements as you have seen, one hand we are expanding even further our collaboration with BioNTech. This is a collaboration that I wish I had many like that they are fantastic partners both in the scientific and on the personal level. Now we are going with the third target. We believe that was very carefully selected, we believe that there's very high probability of delivering a solution to an unmet need not because the current vaccines are not effective, but they are don't have the safety profile that we hope we can achieve with this technology. But it is not only the infectious diseases that matter, there are other applications that they can help so there are three more deals that we have announced, very important one with the Beam. Beam is a, is a leader in the base gene editing technology. We, we did a lot of due diligence and we believe that the base technology is a technology that has the most promise in gene editing. And right now, we have partnered with them to deliver three targets of significant importance in liver, in, in the nervous system. And also, we did two platform deals technologies one is with Acuitas. Acuitas is providing us license for ten targets in a very basic technology these are the lipid nanoparticles technologies, it’s an essential part of everything you do with mRNA right now, and that gives us tremendous independence. And I wouldn't underestimate also the agreement that we did with Codex. Codex has a technology that you can produce DNA, not through biological means which is how are we doing right now when we are working for example with our vaccines against COVID, but with chemical. This means that you can reduce the time of producing a very essential part of the overall manufacturing process for RNA vaccines from almost a month to a couple of days. That could cut dramatically, potentially even further our ability to have new variant vaccines if needed, instead of three months into two. That will produce let’s say dramatic benefits for, for our fighting against COVID and other diseases like flu, for example, because that will allow you to be very, very close the time that the new variants are circulated.

TIRRELL: Wow, I think that would be a massive change. You know, you mentioned BioNTech being a great partner and we've obviously seen that throughout the world through this pandemic. Is there ever a time when Pfizer would buy BioNTech?

BOURLA: No, of course we wouldn't even speculate in something like that. We wouldn't even comment on something like that. But right now, our relationship is perfect.

TIRRELL: Well, let's talk about the product, the first product is that relationship, of course, the vaccine. What is your expectation in terms of, you know, whether we're going to see an update to that vaccine. We just spoke with Stéphane Bancel from Moderna last hour who suggested really the focus is on the fall for figuring out the right strains for them. But of course, we're already seeing Israel giving forth booster doses. So, what do you think the future holds in terms of when we'll be getting the next boosters and what those boosters are going to contain?

BOURLA: I wouldn’t say that the future is clearly predictable right now, but what I think it is that we are doing everything we can so that you can stay ahead of the virus. And let me start with I don't know if there is a need for a fourth booster. That's something that needs to be tested. And I know that Israel already starting some of these experiments, and we will conduct also some of these experiments to make sure that if needed, we’ll use it. I don't think we should do anything that is not needed. Also, we are working on a new version of our vaccine that version that will be effective against Omicron as well is not that will not be effective against the other variants but against Omicron as well. And the hope is that we will achieve something that will have way, way better protection, particularly against infections because the protection against the hospitalizations and the severe disease, it is, it is reasonable right now, with the current vaccines as long as you are having let's say the third dose. This vaccine will be ready in March. I don't know if we will need it. I don't know if and how it will be used. But we'll be ready and in fact, we already starting manufacturing some of these quantities at risk so if there is a need for that vaccine, that we will have some immediately because there are a lot of governors that would like to see it immediately. And clearly also the pill, right? This is where most of the effort of most of the governments is moving. When I say from the mobility of our, our antiviral, they are all placing orders and some of them they're discussing right now about stockpiling. And we're waiting eagerly to see the results from the countries that already is circulating in real world data. We have the US, we have Israel, a lot of places that's already there.

TIRRELL: Let's talk about that pill, PAXLOVID. Of course, this is a hope of so many people amid what we're going through right now with Omicron but here in the US and I imagine it's the same in every country, constraint there's the supply is really constrained, expected to be about 265,000 courses in the US by the end of January, 10 million by the end of June. What can you tell us about the cadence of the delivery between now and the summertime for getting those more doses in the US?

BOURLA: It's going to go exponentially up month after month. So it's not going to be exactly 10% or 20% the month after, it is going to be two, three times and then we're going to go again two, three times, etc., etc. We should be having you spoke about the 200,000 something, we should be having six millions by March. And then we are going really, really big. We should be having other 24 millions in the next quarter, so 30 all the way to half the year. And right now we are already at 120 capacity, but because there are discussions about stockpiling, we are trying to understand that if and how we could scale up even, even more.

SORKIN: Albert, I'm curious how you think about the, given the number of breakthrough cases that we're seeing with Omicron, whether you think that that's going to suppress the public's appetite longer term for boosters over time?

BOURLA: I think this is a real risk because you know there is always the, the element of people could get tired. But I believe that this situation has unfortunately, not fortunately, but unfortunately, formed two camps of two different mindsets. There is a mindset that they're very fanatic that they are don't want vaccine and there's a mindset of other people who they want maximum protection. So, I believe in the element of in this segment of the people that they do believe in the value of the vaccine, the people that they want maximum protection, I think they will follow at large the instructions of the healthcare authorities and their physician. The other camp which is the ones that they are very skeptical, I think they will remain skeptical and for them I feel unfortunately the solution only will be the pill if they get disease and then there is the in between, which is the number of people which is a smaller segment that can go one way or another and this is where education needs to help.

SORKIN: You just mentioned the pill and I think there are people who may be vaccine skeptical let's call them who may start to think to themselves, this therapeutic will be available. The question and it goes back to where Meg was going with this is how quickly can you scale and can you scale up you're talking about 20 million pill, 20 million doses, could you scale up to hundreds of millions of doses in this calendar year?

BOURLA: Just to clarify something we aren’t speaking about doses right we are speaking about courses of treatment. When we spoke about 120 million courses, this is 3.6 billion tablets, right because these are 30 tablets per, per treatment. It is three tablets day, day night for five days. So, it is already very high but we are looking at opportunities and it is feasible if there is a need to scale up more. It just, you need to make the decisions early because scale up that will take let's say six, seven months.

BECKY QUICK: Albert, I think that gets at the heart of the problem we keep running into like this and that is nobody knows where this is going. You said yourself the top of this, it's hard to predict what happens next with these variants, where things go, how things develop. But if you're not prepared, if you don't have situations like we've just gotten caught in the United States without having enough testing at this point, I mean Abbott Labs was in a position where people weren't buying their tests so they weren't producing as much. A lot of these tests don't have a long enough shelf life. They haven't been approved by the FDA for a long enough shelf life for them to stick around for long enough for us to be able to effectively stockpile these things. My question is what, what are you getting in terms of your workings with the US government at this point that is helpful or not helpful in terms of being able to provide for things we may need come fall of 2022? How do we prevent ourselves from being in another position where we could have done things, we could have had enough had we thought ahead and plan for enough contingencies? Where are we in good shape on this and where are we not?

BOURLA: I think it is a very good old saying that you regret for things that you didn't do more than for things that you did and I think that's very high in the minds not only of the US government, of many governments. And they are really, the discussions about stockpiling has to do with that, that better if we have some stocks available, so that will provide us independence and it will provide us certainty and eventually those stocks will be absorbed because of the lifestyle, the shelf life of the pill will be let's say many years I think I believe that they are so yes, there is a lot of thinking I can’t speak about neither the US nor any other government, but all of them, they are on this mindset right now how to build an inventory which is a lifesaving inventory.

TIRRELL: Well, Albert, sort of on the same theme that Becky was just asking about, you know, one of the things one could envision us going through in the fall is a new variant which would just be awful but experts say if this keeps spreading to the degree it is around the world, it's almost inevitable. You know, the WHO has that goal of 70% of the world getting vaccinated by July. Do you think that is a goal that is likely to be achieved? We know the supply is getting better, do you expect those to actually be able to get delivered and is there a chance we can vaccinate enough people and control this well enough that we don't see new variants emerge this year?

BOURLA: It will be challenging not because of vaccine availability. As you just mentioned, we already have more vaccines than people who will eventually need right now. And particularly in the low-income countries, they have more than they can absorb right now. I think all the efforts should be right now from WHO but also from us, we should help them on that. Everybody should help on that it is to build the infrastructure in the low-income countries so that they can absorb more vaccines and also the campaigns that will convince the population. You know, the vaccines, vaccine hesitancy it is very different country by country and society by society, right? We have examples like Scandinavian countries, highly, highly educated, very big trust in the government that they're on the 90s. And then you can go down as you go to poorer countries and unfortunately, the low-income countries have the highest degrees of hesitancy and that needs to change. So the people need to be convinced to get vaccinated. Plus, of course, we need to have vaccination centers and all of that so I doubt that we will reach a level that because we will have everyone vaccinated and everyone, all the rest of the people with disease, we will control let's say within the next 10 years this, this virus I think will continue to be present without being certain about it. Right. But I believe it will continue to be to be present because it's spread everywhere and because both natural infection and vaccinations seems to produce not very durable immune protection so it's going to be coming again and again. But we can have it perfectly controlled. That’s my message. Perfectly controlled. We can have hopefully with an annual revaccination and with pills available and with our ability to stay constantly ahead of the virus because we can produce very fast, we can make the newest version, version 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 of the vaccine, that will be more and more effective as the virus mutates but we will have perfectly normal life with just injection maybe once a year and the pill that in case we are sick will make it like a flu like rather than a life threatening disease.

TIRRELL: Perfectly normal lives that is what we're hoping to get back to. Albert, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

BOURLA: Thank you.