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BioNTech’s 30 Billion Reasons


The real winner in the Covid-19 vaccine sweepstakes is the German company BioNTech, not Pfizer.

Much has been made of Pfizer reaching the extraordinary mark of $100 billion in revenues in 2022, in large part undoubtedly thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and its famous Covid-19 “vaccine.” Indeed, Pfizer’s year-end earnings report shows that Covid-19 vaccine sales alone account for nearly 38 percent of those $100 billion in revenues (p. 30).

But revenues are revenues. What counts, of course, are profits. And half of the profits on its Covid-19 vaccine sales are not in fact profits for Pfizer, but rather costs. How could that be?

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Well, it is because “Pfizer’s” Covid-19 vaccine is not in fact Pfizer’s. Legally, Pfizer is not even the manufacturer. Pfizer is rather a contract manufacturer that produces and markets the vaccine on behalf of its actual owner, the German company BioNTech. It says so right on the product’s label!

And per the terms of the collaboration agreement between the two firms, Pfizer pays BioNTech a 50 percent share of its gross profits for the privilege of doing so. (See my article “50/50 Split: BioNTech and the Pfizer Illusion” or section 4.9.1 of the collaboration agreement here.)

After the deduction of this 50 percent BioNTech share as “cost of sale,” Pfizer has estimated that its own remaining profit margin on Covid-19 vaccine sales is in the “high-20s as a percentage of revenues.” (See, for instance, the quarterly earnings report here, p. 4.)

Let us split the difference and assume a 27.5 percent Pfizer profit margin. Applying this margin to Pfizer’s $37.8 billion in 2022 Covid-19 vaccine revenues gives around $10.4 billion in profits.

So, BioNTech earned the same amount? Well, no. BioNTech earned more.

Among other possible reasons, this is because whereas the companies split profits 50-50 on sales in the Pfizer sales territory, BioNTech also has its own reserved sales markets (Germany and Turkey) and sells the product in partnership with the Chinese company Fosun Pharma on still other markets (Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, but still not mainland China where the drug has never been authorized).

So, how much did BioNTech earn? It would seem that hardly anyone wanted to know – or, at any rate, not in the Twittersphere. Thus, while Pfizer’s hefty 2022 earnings were the subject of many a viral tweet, with Elon Musk himself even helping out to amplify one with a couple of exclamation points (see below), BioNTech’s late March release of its own 2022 earnings report passed virtually unnoticed on Twitter and elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the company’s 2022 Covid-19 vaccine profit figure is right there: namely, on p. 161 under “Operating Results.” See below. No need to worry about profits on sales of any other products – since BioNTech does not have any other products. €12.95 billion. Or, at the average 2022 rate of exchange, $13.6 billion. So, roughly $3 billion and 30 percent more than Pfizer.


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