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Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla On Covid Vaccine Manufacturing Outlook
MEG TIRRELL: Joining us now to discuss is one of the premier vaccine makers in this pandemic, Pfizer's CEO Albert Bourla, and so much more of course from the JP Morgan healthcare conference. Albert, thanks for being with us this morning. You know, talking about this idea that more people could become eligible to get a vaccine that just puts more pressure on you and Moderna to manufacture these doses. Tell us about how the vaccine manufacturing is going and your confidence and being able to keep up a steady pace.
ALBERT BOURLA: Thank you very much, Meg. First of all, let me say that if this is true what we're hearing it is very positive. I think that's exactly what needs to be done. And I think so far, I don't think that we have an issue of offering less vaccines in the country, or the countries frankly need. We have much more than they can use right now. So, I think the main bottleneck right now is to make sure that we ramp up operation so it's going to administer more vaccines. When it comes to our ability to manufacture yesterday our partner already announced what I'm going to announce also myself today that we can now feel very confident that we will increase their mitochondrial production for this year, up to 2 billion doses. And if you're comfortable that we will be able to deliver that. That was the result of multiple steps that we do. But this is where we are right now. So I feel very comfortable with the contracts that we have with the U.S. government we will be able to deliver on schedule.
TIRRELL: Well, you just mentioned you have more vaccines than are being used right now. And that's just sort of mind boggling because we thought it was going to be the opposite problem – that everybody’s just going to be pounding down the door and there wouldn't be enough supply. What can you tell us about how much you've already made that you have sitting there ready to go once the gates are opened? And we do understand that the policy change today could also include releasing some of the doses that are being held for a second dose.
BOURLA: Yeah, at the end of last week of 2020 for example, we had already manufactured more than 70 million doses and we had released from there, because there's a quality control that you need to release – around 50 million doses. Then we manufactured more the first week of January. Right now I think we've released 33 million doses. And we have, let's say, half of what we have manufactured sitting on the shelves.
TIRRELL: It sounds like from your increased forecasts for how much you can make this year – now up to 2 billion doses in 2021, that's up from 1.3 billion. We understand some of that is because this fortuitous finding that there's an extra dose in those five dose files, that accounts for 20% of that. But it also means that your vaccine manufacturing seems to be going better than you expected. So should we be expecting an increased pace, really, of output from you on a steady drumbeat throughout the year?
BOURLA: Well yes, this is what I'm very confident that this will happen much higher than what we had forecasted before, and to the tune of going from 1.3 to 2 billion doses. The 20% increase because they have 6 doses in the vial, was a result of data but also that we generated and we submitted to all regulatory authorities. And right now, the 6 doses have been approved by FDA, the European authorities the WHO, Israeli authorities, Switzerland authorities, you name it. So basically the entire world is using our 6 doses. But also, we have done tremendous steps to improve production of lipids by our third party manufacturers, our reduction of the drug substance in our vaccine manufacturing sites. We did a lot of things. Actually, I have to say that what our manufacturing team did was almost another miracle following what our research team did to bring this vaccine in such record time. They are scaling up manufacturing in speeds that we didn't think that were possible. So they are also making the impossible possible.
BECKY QUICK: Yeah, Albert, that has been no – that you alone, released last year and you consider that that's not the only vaccine out there and then you realize that only nine, maybe nine and a half million Americans have gotten a shot to this point. We talk all the time about the bottlenecks. Where are the bottlenecks that you see?
BOURLA: Yes and to make sure what we were vaccine manufacturing was global. So in the U.S., we offer to the U.S., 20 million doses of the 50 we had, but as you said, they took less. It has to do with bottleneck I think in the execution. I think they are gearing up to fix them. I think has to do with how centers operates with states, it has to do with some of the policies that they are implementing – for good reasons, but you know, they are debatable. Bottom line, I think it is – they are all trying to improve right now this because everybody feels that this is way behind what they wished to be. And I feel confident that within let's say a month or so, we will be able to reach the level we always want.
TIRRELL: Albert, it's Meg again. You know, yesterday the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, wrote a letter to Secretary Alex Azar requesting permission to just buy 100,000 doses directly from Pfizer. Do you think that that would help? Could you do that with permission from HHS, sell directly to states? Could that fix some of these bottlenecks?
BOURLA: I don't know if that will fix some of the bottlenecks but looks like the government believes so. And right now, we can't. It's up to HHS to indicate to whom we can sell as you know, we operate under a special emergency use authorization in the US. So, if they permit us to do so, we will but they need to agree or not.
ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Albert. It's a small issue but I'm curious from a, just a corporate governance perspective what you made of the decision by Moderna and their team to go ahead and vaccinate all of their senior level employees, their families, and also their board members and their families.
BOURLA: It's not appropriate for me to comment what Moderna or any other company are doing and I respect all of them enormously. I'll tell you what we do and what we do, I didn't get the vaccine. I, we've had the received a license for me to get the vaccine because I'm now without knowing or without wanting a public figure that could enhance the confidence by me taking the vaccine but I didn't do it because, you know, what if someone was telling you, you do it but you cannot do it your colleagues are working on this all, right? So, I feel the same. Why should I do it when my leadership team cannot do it and why the board should do it when our other employees cannot do it. Right now, we receive the license to vaccinate with Pfizer the essential workers and the essential workers are the people but they are working in the vaccine manufacturing side but producing all these medicines and in the research side that they are working in critical research programs and we started already doing that. This will be a number of 30,000 approximately people out of a total of almost 80,000 employees and contractors that we have in Pfizer and we do not plan to vaccinate, prioritize let me put it this way, our executives or our board members before our essential workers. You know, people are pressing me and I’ve told them many times, my dad taught me that is not nice to cut the line. So, we will wait our turn.
TIRRELL: I think there's gonna be a lot of debate about that especially whether you'd be considered an essential worker Albert, but I want to ask you about what's going to come next in terms of data around the vaccine. I know you haven't stopped working on it. When are you expecting data on whether the vaccine prevents transmission. What do you expect about the durability of the protection and I understand you and your partner BioNTech are also working on new formulations so that it's more stable, it can be stored not in those ultra-cold freezers, tell us about what's next.
BOURLA: All of this very good question. I believe that the beginning of February somewhere there, we should know about the, your first question was about the…
BOURLA: Transmission. And we should be having enough data to be able to know if that is the case. As regards, new formulations, yes we are working on new formulations. From months back, we were started designing the lifecycle of this vaccine what would be the next better version. We're thinking how to make it more effective, frankly, we reach a level of effectiveness that you can go better. So right now, we are focusing all our efforts to make it simpler to transport which means that you can use not ultra-cold thing but let's say a different type of temperature. Although also this has been proven to be a non-issue given the innovations that we did in our logistics to transport this vaccine.
JOE KERNEN: Albert.
BOURLA: And I wanted to finish by saying the duration of the activity is something that we don't know yet. I think we will monitor all the subjects of our study for two years to see for how long they, they remain protected and we will release these data when we have it.
KERNEN: You know, Albert, the unfortunate stigma of cutting a line I just hope it never gets to the point where some of the slow rollout that we're seeing that you're even talking about isn't because there's not a 75 year old or a fireman there that needs it. Hopefully there's always lines and there's someone ready to get the vaccine if the vaccine is available but you can imagine if that's not the case. If you had taken it and given it to your board and to some of your employees, everyone who got it suddenly is a person who can't give it to somebody else. And every time you don't do it when it's sitting there on a shelf and there's no 75 year old just sitting there waiting to get it, there could be someone that, that's old and gets it from one of the people that you decided you didn't want the stigma of the cut line and dies from it. So, it just seems like the, you know, once again we're talking about the perfect being the enemy of the good, we should do all we can to get the people who need it the most. But anyone who gets it, even if it's inadvertent or somehow out of the guideline, that person can't give it to somebody else all of a sudden. You see what I'm saying I mean that this, this hyper awareness of who should get it and who shouldn't it, that's fine, as long as that's not a part of what’s keeping it from being rolled out more quickly.
BOURLA: I think you have a very, very good point and believe me, there are a lot of people who are telling you the same. Keep in mind that I didn't expect that we will have more though I think the time will come but I will get it. I can't tell you how much I want to get it and how much I want to give it to my family. But, as I said, I found that demonstrating some, some, let's say, humility, or demonstrating some, some respect to the order was essential for me and it is who I am.
TIRRELL: Albert, we have to let you go but we always have you on and we can't resist asking you a million questions about the vaccine obviously because it's what's going to get us out of this pandemic but you are presenting at JP Morgan today, you're going to be talking about the entire company which is going through a major transition. In the short time we have left and we'll talk more at earnings I hope, choose your favorite pipeline products that you want people to know about that Pfizer is working on as well.
BOURLA: Come on if someone asked parents, choose your favorite child, how can you, how can you do that. I think there are so many in all areas but I would say that our vaccine’s pipeline is fascinating. I would say that we are about to launch our first new generation and I'm very, very excited about that. The DMD Rare Disease therapy program, the same muscle dystrophy program now looks like is not only the best but also first in class or could be, could be best first in class. So, we're very excited about this program. So, there are so many that we need maybe the entire time of your show to discuss about this pipeline. But so many diseases, I think, that we need significant solutions.
TIRRELL: Absolutely Albert, we know you called your vaccine effort project lightspeed and we're sure you're applying that same speed and focus to the rest of the pipeline. We appreciate you being here. Thanks again.
BOURLA: Thank you very much.