“Pfizer did a lot of good [for] humanity and we are very, very proud of it,” Bourla said in an interview with CNN Business. “Not only were we able to save so many lives … but we are enjoying high levels of corporate reputation right now. People like us.”
Hoping to get Covid pill approved in early 2022
Bourla said he understands the frustration of parents who are fully vaccinated but cannot get their youngest kids protected.
“We’re working very intensively on that to make sure we can bring a solution for that,” Bourla said.
“We are looking at different doses, well below the doses that have been used [for adults and older kids.] We know that it will be safe. What we are looking to see is if that will protect them by giving the lower dose,” he added.
But Bourla stressed to CNN Business that the pill is not meant to be a substitute for the vaccine.
Ready to launch an Omicron-specific vaccine if needed
He conceded, however, that it is possible Pfizer will need to launch a new vaccine to specifically target Omicron or any other future variants. Bourla said Pfizer is already developing a shot aimed at Omicron, and that he believes it could be tested and submitted to regulators for approval by March.
If Pfizer needs to produce Omicron-specific shots, that will not slow the manufacturing of the existing vaccine, Bourla said.
“We are aiming for a four billion [dose] annual manufacturing capacity of our current vaccine. And if we have to switch between the two, the old and the new, we still will make four billion. We don’t expect that we will lose any volume,” he said.
Bourla also acknowledged that there are cynics who question whether Pfizer is just trying to make as much money as possible from the vaccine.
After all, Pfizer said in its latest earnings release in November that it generated $13 billion in revenue from the vaccine in the third quarter and that it now expects $36 billion in revenue from it for the full year.
Bourla told CNN Business that it is charging poorer, developing nations less for the vaccine than it does to wealthier countries. But cost isn’t the only challenge. He said some countries, such as those in remote parts of Africa, are “lacking basic infrastructure.”
“They don’t have centers to vaccinate people, particularly in remote places. They do not have enough nurses,” he said. “Sometimes they are lacking syringes, sometimes they are lacking refrigerators so that they can store the vaccine. So this is unfortunately the situation.”
Bourla is hopeful the World Health Organization and the public-private vaccine alliance Gavi will be able to help resolve some of these issues. He also said the company is looking into drone delivery more to ensure that people get the vaccine more quickly.
“We are doing everything we can to find ourselves on the right [side] of history,” he said.
Bourla also continued to stress that the vaccine is safe and that the only way for life to return to normal is for people to get the shots.
“I don’t see any reason why next year will not be a normal year if we do the simple things that are available for us,” Bourla said. “If we have very big numbers of people that don’t want to do a third dose or don’t want to vaccinate at all, that’s a problem.”
More to Pfizer than the Covid vaccine
Pfizer and Bourla aren’t resting on their laurels.
The company has also been at the forefront of developing many other promising blockbuster drugs such as blood thinner Eliquis, breast cancer treatment Ibrance and rheumatoid arthritis pill Xeljanz, as well as the Prevnar family of pneumonia vaccines.
Bourla is fully aware that for a drug company to remain successful, it has to have even more promising drugs in the pipeline.
Several of Pfizer’s current top sellers are due to lose patent protection in the next few years. Once they expire, that opens the door for cheaper generic drugs to compete with them.
“It’s challenging to multitask,” Bourla said. “But let’s not forget what else we are working on. There are so many medicines for cancer, for other infectious diseases, for cardiovascular diseases, for other diseases.”
“We are heavily invested right now in cancer,” Bourla added. “The biggest percentage of our R&D investment goes into oncology right now.”
Albert Bourla of Pfizer is the CNN Business CEO of the Year