Public Health

Pfizer wants to bring Seagen’s cancer drugs to the world at a scale not seen before, CEO says

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla talks during a press conference with European Commission President after a visit to oversee the production of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at the factory of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, in Puurs, on April 23, 2021.

John Thys | AFP | Getty Images

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Monday said the pharmaceutical giant will be able to deliver Seagen’s cancer therapy to the world “at a scale that has not been seen before” with its $43 billion acquisition.

“We can add value to what Seagen is bringing,” Bourla said in a CNBC interview. “It’s more or less a situation like when mRNA was in our hands. With our scale, with our capabilities, this is the same here.”

Seagen is a leading developer of medicine called antibody-drug conjugates, or ADCs, which are designed to kill cancer cells and spare healthy ones. ADCs use antibodies to deliver small molecule drugs directly to a tumor site, which may reduce side effects and offer greater efficacy, according to Seagen’s website.

Bourla called ADCs “one of the greatest technologies to battle cancer” and likened them to the successful mRNA, or messenger RNA, technology the company helped manufacture with BioNTech for Covid-19 vaccines. The mRNA technology is basically used as a vehicle to deliver instructions to cells. In Covid vaccines, mRNA technology is used to trick our immune system into developing antibodies against the virus.

ADCs “are turbo charge guided missiles that are attacking the cancer cells and can make a huge difference,” he said.

Seagen will bulk up Pfizer’s cancer treatment portfolio, bringing four approved cancer therapies with combined sales of nearly $2 billion in 2022. Seagen’s top seller Adcetris, which treats lymph system cancers, brought in $839 million alone in sales last year. That’s a 19% increase over the prior year, according to Seagen’s latest earnings release.

Sales of Padcev, a treatment for cancers of the urinary tract, also grew 33% last year to $451 million, the company said.

“These medicines are on a strong growth trajectory, with significant lifecycle programs anticipated to drive continued impact uptake and growth,” Bourla said on a conference call earlier Monday morning.

Seagen expects to generate about $2.2 billion in revenue this year, representing 12% year-over-year growth, according to a Pfizer press release. Pfizer added that Seagen could contribute more than $10 billion in risk-adjusted sales by 2030, “with potential for significant growth” beyond that year.

The deal comes as Pfizer prepares for a decline in Covid-related sales this year, after its vaccine and antiviral pill Paxlovid drove its 2022 revenue to a record $100 billion. It will help Pfizer sharpen its focus on oncology, a field the company believes will be the industry’s biggest growth market.

Pfizer’s oncology division raked in $12.1 billion in revenue last year. The company has 24 approved treatments in the division, including breast cancer treatment Ibrance, according to the release.

Pfizer expects to complete the transaction later this year or in early 2024. The company also expects antitrust regulators to closely review the deal due to its size, but Bourla said during the interview “we think we have a clean case.”

“The environment is always challenging and we’re preparing for it, but I don’t expect issues,” he added.

Cancer accounted for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, according to the World Health Organization. The American Cancer Society expects the global burden of cancer to grow significantly by 2040, forecasting new cases to grow to 27.5 million and cancer deaths to hit 16.3 million

Bourla emphasized during the interview that cancer’s impact reaches far beyond the patients themselves: “If not patients, they will be affected as husband or wife, they will be affected by daughter or son.”

He added: “We can make a big difference with this technology in our hands.”

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