The pandemic showered
with record sales. Now the end of the crisis is dragging the drugmaker down.

Its Covid-19 vaccine and drug powered Pfizer to more than $100 billion in sales last year, the first drugmaker to break the barrier. Shares soared, as Wall Street hailed the company for its savvy, fast and ultimately lucrative pivot to taking on the virus.

But many people have moved on from the pandemic. Sales from the two products dropped so much, so rapidly they contributed to Pfizer’s overall sales falling sizably in its most recent quarter compared with the period a year earlier. The company dialed back the top end of its expectations for the full-year performance.

Shares are down 31% this year to date, a loss of more than $88 billion in market capitalization. The company’s valuation has dropped by $144 billion since its 2021 peak.

Pfizer is hitting a rough spot after its Covid-19 sales nosedived and while it waits for new drugs and recent deal-making to pay off. Adding to the straits: the loss of an estimated $17 billion in annual sales by the end of the decade, when some of the company’s biggest sellers, like arthritis treatment Xeljanz, lose patent protection. 

The New York-based company has talked up plans to increase revenue through a bevy of new drug approvals and their launches. It also has been using its Covid-19 cash to secure other products for its lineup. It predicts more than $10 billion in 2030 sales from its $43 billion proposed deal to buy cancer-drug biotech
as it leans more into cancer drugs

A community Covid-19 vaccination clinic in 2021 in Stamford, Conn.
Photo: Amir Hamja for The Wall Street Journal

Executives also have other dials they can turn to tune up the company’s performance, such as cutting costs and some drug research programs.

Yet executing means Pfizer must overcome factors outside its control. The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing the agreement to buy Seagen, while drugs in late-stage development must pass testing and get green lights from the Food and Drug Administration.


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And Pfizer’s ambitious expectations for launches of new products might be difficult to pull off in today’s tightfisted healthcare environment.

Pfizer has “gotten a lot of things over the finish line, and there’s still some more to go, but they’re asking a lot of those products to contribute in a relatively narrow time frame before year end,” Barclays analyst Carter Gould said. 

Sales of drugs from recent acquisitions, including migraine drug Nurtec and sickle-cell disease treatment Oxbryta, have been slow to accumulate, said Leerink Partners analyst David Risinger. “The market demand has been somewhat softer than expected for both of them,” he said.

The predicament is customary for big pharmaceutical companies, which regularly confront the ups and downs of patent-dependent franchises. Pfizer has plenty of experience navigating through sales drops for impotence pill Viagra, cholesterol fighter Lipitor and other erstwhile juggernauts.

Pfizer’s vaccine research-and-development facility in Pearl River, N.Y.
Photo: Amir Hamja/Bloomberg News

Playing a role this time is Pfizer’s decision to slim down and become a growth stock. Before the pandemic hit, the drugmaker had shed slower-growing businesses, losing the cushion of their steady cash flows, to focus on higher-growth but more volatile prescription drugs.

The strategy paid off handsomely during the pandemic. Shares reached a record high of roughly $61 in December 2021 as the Omicron variant spread throughout the world and Pfizer shipped billions of Covid-19 shots. Pfizer developed the shot with Germany’s

The return to Earth has been abrupt. Earlier this year, Pfizer said it expects its Covid-19 vaccine to generate $13.5 billion in sales in 2023, down roughly two-thirds from last year. The company said its Paxlovid antiviral would bring in about $8 billion in sales this year, down 58% from last year. 

Sales for the products are lower this year because governments have purchased fewer contracts and the U.S. is transitioning to a commercial market. Doctors are also writing fewer Paxlovid prescriptions. 

“A key driver will be the magnitude of the next Covid wave and whether it drives people to be vaccinated at a higher rate or not,” Risinger said. “Covid fatigue and vaccine hesitancy adds additional uncertainty about what the future demand will be for Covid vaccinations.” 

Pfizer said last week, when reporting quarterly earnings, that it should have more clarity on future demand for its pandemic products by the end of the year. By then, it will have rolled out its latest Covid-19 shot through the traditional commercial market. 

Demand for Pfizer’s Paxlovid antiviral medication is down sharply from last year.
Photo: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg News

Should sales fail to materialize, Pfizer is prepared to trim R&D spending for Covid-19 and other disease areas, Chief Executive

Albert Bourla
said in an interview.  

“We are moving post-Covid,” Bourla said.

Pfizer lowered its growth-rate target for this year, citing the FDA’s decision to approve a cancer drug for a smaller patient population than the company expected and the federal government’s recommendation for a new RSV vaccine falling short of company expectations.

Recent damage from a tornado to a North Carolina manufacturing plant might also jeopardize sales, Chief Financial Officer

David Denton

To date this year, the FDA has approved four Pfizer medicines. The company is more than halfway through its goal of rolling out 19 new drugs or expanded uses over 18 months through the first half of 2024. 

An experimental multiple myeloma drug called elranatamab that is up for FDA approval could generate about $1 billion in sales in 2030, according to Jefferies analyst

Akash Tewari.

Recent tornado damage to a Pfizer manufacturing plant in Rocky Mount, N.C., could jeopardize sales this year, the company has said.
Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Write to Jared S. Hopkins at