Biden patent waiver unlikely to hit vaccine sales

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President Biden’s support for the WTO's proposed temporary waiver of Covid-19 vaccine patents has certainly put the cat among the pigeons, hitting stocks of coronavirus vaccine manufacturers in early trade. But just how real a threat the waiver is to vaccine sales is debatable. On Moderna’s earnings call this morning chief executive Stéphane Bancel told investors that he was not losing sleep – and well might he slumber. In October the group said it would not enforce patents around its Covid jab; in the ensuing seven months no one has used the tech, Mr Bancel said. It is one thing to have the formulation for vaccines, but a very different one to produce them, especially mRNA shots. A shortage in manufacturing capacity and professionals with knowledge of mRNA production provide very effective barriers to entry, before considering the lengthy processes involved in building new facilities and winning regulatory approvals. Any potential sales would therefore be years away. Additionally, it is far from clear that future patents will be waived. Developers are already working on jabs for variants, and Moderna itself is studying multivalent vaccines. As such the share price reaction could well turn out to be a storm in a teacup.

Sales at risk? Near-term forecasts for selected Covid-19 vaccines
Product Company 2021e sales ($bn) 2022e sales ($bn) Early share price reaction (May 6)
Comirnaty Pfizer 26.0* 4.7 -2% (partner Biontech down 6%)
mRNA-1273 Moderna 19.0* 12.1 -7%
NVX-CoV2373 Novavax 4.3 4.7 -4%
AZD1222 Astrazeneca 1.7 1.9 -1%
*Company guidance; all other figures sellside consensus from Evaluate Pharma. A reliable consensus has yet to emerge for Johnson & Johnson.

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