Dive Insight:

Few bets pay off as well, or as quickly, as Bourla’s decision last year to pour Pfizer’s resources into coronavirus vaccine development. The company’s shot, developed with the help of German drugmaker BioNTech, is now viewed as one of the most effective available against COVID-19 and, as a result, is in high demand across the world.

Access, however, has largely been the result of which governments paid Pfizer early on to preorder doses. The U.S., for example, committed nearly $6 billion to reserve 300 million doses, some 162 million of which were delivered through May 3.

Another 600 million doses will go to the European Union this year, and the company is currently negotiating a much larger supply deal with the economic bloc.

Pfizer and BioNTech expect to produce approximately 2.5 billion doses in 2021, meaning some 900 million doses could still be sold and revenue forecasts could rise even higher. The two companies equally split the gross margin, or revenue after deducting the cost of vaccine product sold, although Pfizer books the “vast majority” of revenue globally.

“We also are in ongoing discussions with multiple countries around the world about their needs, and we expect these discussions to lead to additional supply agreements,” said Pfizer’s Bourla in prepared remarks. The executive said Pfizer sells its vaccine in three pricing “tiers” depending on the relative wealth of the country negotiating. Doses for the U.S. cost about $19.50 each, translating to a $39 price for the full two-dose course.

Moderna, which sells a similarly effective coronavirus vaccine as Pfizer, said in late February it had signed advance purchase agreements totaling $18.4 billion for this year. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech reports first quarter earnings on May 6.

Demand from governments is likely to remain high as many countries in Asia and South America experience devastating new waves of coronavirus infections. Globally, daily new COVID-19 cases have hit record highs over the past week.

Even in countries that have vaccinated many of their citizens, like the U.S., U.K. and Israel, there will likely be continued demand for more doses as adolescents and children become eligible. An authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for adolescents aged 12 to 15 years is expected soon, possibly by early next week.

Pfizer, along with other vaccine makers, is also anticipating booster shots will be needed to maintain long-term immunity against coronavirus infection. In a recent interview with CNBC, Bourla said he expects a booster would be needed within a year of full vaccination.

The drugmaker is studying a third shot of the same formulation as is currently authorized, as well as a booster shot tailored specifically to the virus variant first detected in South Africa. Data on both efforts is expected by July.

Should vaccine revenue come in at $26 billion as expected this year, Pfizer would more than double its total revenue from last year. The forecast is roughly two-and-a-half times what the company plans to spend on research and development across all its laboratories this year.

No other medicine in recent history has earned more revenue in a single year. Humira, the top-selling inflammatory drug from AbbVie, made $19.8 billion last year. Lipitor, the statin that helped make Pfizer the industry titan it is today, brought in $12.9 billion in sales at its peak, in 2006. Even combined sales of Harvoni and Sovaldi, the hepatitis C drugs that made Gilead a small fortune in just a few years’ time, fall well short at $19.1 billion.

As a result of the large hike in expected vaccine revenue, Pfizer also upped its forecast for overall revenue this year to between $70.5 and $72.5 billion.