Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and Modern 09.30 NASDAQ: MRNA have been close rivals in the COVID-19 vaccine competition since announcing the start of their Phase 3 vaccination trials on the same day in July. But Pfizer moved forward on the road to the finish line. The large pharmaceutical company won its first FDA (EUA) emergency use permit for a coronavirus vaccine in December.
Still, Moderna was not far behind – the vaccine of the smaller biotech company won the EUA just seven days later.
Since then, the two companies have continued to compete largely in tandem. So far, 49 million Americans have received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine ̵
A key difference between the two mRNA vaccines
Pfizer and Moderna have developed mRNA vaccines for COVID-19. They use messenger RNA to induce the body to produce a key protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. The immune system then makes antibodies that recognize this protein, thus preparing the body to fight the coronavirus. But their vaccines are not identical. One of the big differences from the beginning is their storage temperature requirements. And that’s where Pfizer’s weakness lies.
For longer periods Comirnaty should be stored at ultra-cold temperatures – between minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit and minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit. The vaccine can be stored at standard temperatures in the refrigerator for five days.
As Pfizer collected more data, it was able to loosen some guidelines for shorter-term storage. For example, the company said earlier this year that its vaccine could be stored at relatively higher temperatures (minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) for two weeks. These are temperatures that standard pharmaceutical freezers can maintain. The Food and Drug Administration has approved these new storage guidelines.
Thus, pharmacies and healthcare facilities can easily store the Pfizer vaccine for 19 days. The number of refrigerated temperature period and the temperature period of the pharmacy in the freezer.
Easier from the start
Moderna’s MRNA-1273 offers an easier storage profile from the start. Currently, the guidelines say that it can be stored at standard temperatures in the refrigerator (from 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit to 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit) for a month. Can be stored for up to seven months in a standard freezer. But this week, Modern said additional research showed that mRNA-1273 could be safely maintained at refrigerator temperatures for up to three months. The FDA has yet to approve these new guidelines.
Moderna is also exploring new formulations of its coronavirus vaccine that will further improve its storage profile.
The ability of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to be stored for three months in a standard refrigerator could give it an even bigger foothold on the market. Pfizer ensures the safe transport of its vaccine with special thermal containers. But in smaller health conditions, the problem is on-site storage. Many doctor’s offices or pharmacies may prefer to stock up on a vaccine that can be stored in the refrigerator for a long period of time. They may have limited space in the freezer – or no space in the freezer at all.
And in some countries, temperature requirements can be crucial when it comes to which vaccine governments and health care providers choose. For example, Nigeria said earlier this year that it would favor vaccines that require less cooling.
Evolving vaccination situation
When vaccines against COVID-19 began to be released, the parties simply sought to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible. So they ordered what was available. But as the various vaccine manufacturers continue to increase production and refine their offerings, countries will have more options to choose from – and a little more time to consider those options. This is the moment when Modern can lead.
Will this mean a big market dominance for Moderna and a big loss of revenue for Pfizer? No. It is true that mRNA-1273 can move in the first place due to its easier storage requirements. But if that happens, Pfizer’s Comirnaty will stay close behind. No company can make enough doses to vaccinate more than 7.8 billion people worldwide at the required rate. Moderna and Pfizer are aiming to produce 3 billion doses of their coronavirus vaccines next year, and each requires a person to receive two doses. So, even if a country prefers the Moderna vaccine, for example, it will probably have to order some doses from another vaccine manufacturer to cover all its citizens.
The easier-to-manage temperature requirements for the Moderna vaccine will not change Pfizer’s prospects for billions of dollars in Comirnaty sales. But this latest news is likely to increase orders for mRNA-1273 and could significantly increase sales of Moderna products in the long run.
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