The vaccine candidate, known as BNT162b5, is a bivalent vaccine that contains enhanced prefusion spike proteins for the SARS-CoV-2 ancestral strain and for an Omicron variant.
In the announcement, the companies explained that by ‘enhanced’, it is meant that BNT162b5 the spike protein encoded from the mRNAs has been modified with the aim of increasing the magnitude and breadth of the immune response in recipients, potentially better protecting against COVID-19.
Pfizer and BioNTech have previously advanced an Omicron-adapted vaccine candidate, with the partners posting results in late June that this monovalent vaccine resulted in a ‘substantially higher’ immune response compared with the existing vaccine.
However, the companies look set to pursue vaccine candidates with this enhanced, bivalent design, with an eye on providing a longer-term strategy against COVID-19. BNT162b5 represents the “first of multiple vaccine candidates” designed in the same manner, the companies stated.
In terms of the trial, BNT162b5 will be tested in the US in approximately 200 recipients aged between 18 and 55 who have received one booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, at least 90 days prior to their first study visit.
It is no secret that for both companies, Comirnaty, their approved vaccine against COVID-19, has driven enormous sales. In the first quarter of this year, Pfizer was able to reach $13.2bn (€12.9bn) in sales for the product, which actually represented an increase on the $12.5bn earned in Q4 of 2021.
Pfizer estimates 2022 revenue of $32bn for the full year, with the company’s CEO, Albert Bourla, previously stating that he expects there to be further potential demand for a fourth dose, as an additional booster. At the beginning of the year, the two partners stated that they will produce four billion doses of their current vaccine regardless of whether an update to the vaccine was needed or not.
As a result, the race is on between vaccine developers to create an updated vaccine that is able to prove it can produce a broader immune response and a longer duration to become the booster of choice.
A strengthened partnership
Beginning research on a ‘next generation’ COVID-19 vaccine is only part of the two companies’ plans to leverage the success achieved in mRNA vaccines. The partners are already working on a mRNA Shingles vaccine, as GSK has proven that this therapeutic area has potential to create blockbuster treatments, through its Shingrix (recombinant zoster vaccine) product.
The Shingles vaccine candidate represents the fourth unique program that both companies are working on together, with two additional programs being progressed against influenza, alongside the COVID-19 program of vaccines.