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Pfizer to expand coronavirus vaccine trials with eye on fall approval

Drugmaker sees 'negligible' hit from outbreak over full year

MAPLEWOOD, U.S. (Reuters) -- Pfizer on Tuesday said it expects its experimental coronavirus vaccine to move into expanded clinical trials by October that could allow for emergency use or accelerated approval, as it ramps up efforts to combat the pandemic.

The company left its full-year adjusted profit forecast of $2.82 to $2.92 per share unchanged, saying it expects the pandemic to have little impact on its overall results.

Pfizer said most of its drugs are not administered at the physician's office, which would help it emerge from the pandemic with a "negligible" impact on its results. Millions of Americans have been avoiding visiting doctors or hospitals out of fear of becoming infected with the virus.

However, Chief Executive Albert Bourla on a conference call cautioned, "We are likely to see more negative impact during the second quarter, driven primarily by reductions in new patient starts."

Pfizer, in partnership with Germany's BioNTech, is among many drugmakers racing to develop a vaccine for the highly contagious virus that has infected more than 3 million people worldwide.

The company said it expects to make safety data available by late May and move into expanded trials that could allow emergency use or accelerated approval starting in the fall, although experts have cautioned that a safe, effective vaccine may still be more than a year away.

The company's unchanged forecast "makes clear management confidence that they have enough gears to make its earnings guidance despite COVID-19," Citi analyst Andrew Baum said.

In contrast, Merck & Co on Tuesday estimated a $2.1 billion hit to 2020 revenue due to the pandemic, as two-thirds of its products must be administered by doctors.

Pfizer reported a nearly $150 million boost to first-quarter revenue, helped by increased demand for some of its medicines, including pneumonia vaccine Prevnar, which some physicians are prescribing to help combat the effects of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

There are currently no treatments of vaccines approved for COVID-19, but doctors have been trying many approaches to try to alter the course of the sometimes deadly disease.

Pfizer also said its commitment to spin off its off-patent branded drugs business and combine it with generic drugmaker Mylan NV was unchanged.

Excluding items, Pfizer earned 80 cents per share in the quarter, beating analysts by 7 cents, according to Refinitiv data.

Revenue fell 8.3% to $12.03 billion, but topped Wall Street estimates of about $11.87 billion.

Pfizer shares were down 0.4% at $38.16.

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