(Bloomberg) — Pfizer Inc. jumped to a record Friday on the promise of its Covid-19 vaccine and antiviral pill even as fears of a new variant tamped down much of the rest of the U.S. stock market.
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The drug maker added $17.5 billion to it market value as the shares closed 6.1% higher in New York trading. Pfizer’s vaccine with BioNTech SE is on track to be the best-selling drug product on a yearly basis and received backing from a European regulatory panel on Thursday to expand its use into children as young as five. BioNTech shares surged 14% to the highest in two months.
New York-based Pfizer is waiting to hear back from U.S. regulators on a new Covid pill, Paxlovid. The company filed for an emergency use authorization for the medicine on Nov. 16. Friday’s results from Merck & Co.’s competing pill appeared less effective than prior estimates.
The World Health Organization said that a strain of coronavirus recently discovered by South African researchers poses a threat that could confound countries’ efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19. The WHO assigned the Greek letter omicron to the variant, which had been known as B.1.1.529, following a meeting by a panel of experts Friday to discuss the strain.
“In the event that [a] vaccine-escape variant emerges, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be able to develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days, subject to regulatory approval,” a company spokeswoman said in an email.
The next two weeks will be critical, said Citigroup Inc. analyst Andrew Baum. “Concern over Nu needs to be balanced against the failure of other concerning variants such as Beta (also first identified in Africa) to out-compete Delta,” he said. The new antivirals should still work against the variant though resistance may eventually appear, he wrote in a research note.
Pfizer’s stock is up roughly 47% this year. Other vaccine stocks also rallied on Friday with Moderna Inc. jumping 21% for its biggest climb since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
(Updates with additional details from the World Health Organization in the fourth paragraph.)
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