J&J forecasts $2.5 bln in COVID-19 vaccine sales this year

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By Manas Mishra and Carl O'Donnell

(Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday forecast $2.5 billion in sales of its one-shot COVID-19 vaccine this year based on the current price of $5 per dose and said that could rise to $8 a dose by the end of the year.

The company now expects to produce 500 million to 600 million doses of its vaccine this year, Chief Financial Officer Joseph Wolk told CNBC on Wednesday. Manufacturing problems derailed its original goal of producing a billion shots this year.

J&J reported $164 million in COVID-19 vaccine sales for the second quarter, bringing total sales to $264 million so far.

While the J&J shot was authorized in the United States just a few months after those from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc were cleared, its vaccine sales outlook pales in comparison and reflects the widening gap in the global vaccine race. Pfizer and Moderna have forecast $26 billion and $19.2 billion in annual sales of their vaccines, respectively.

Analysts have said that lower demand for J&J's vaccine should not affect the enormous company's overall financials. Revenue for all the vaccines could jump if health officials determine a round of booster shots is needed should evidence show COVID-19 immunity is waning.

"It is simply too early to provide specific information on a 2022 outlook for our COVID-19 vaccine given the uncertainty on the need for boosters and new variants," Wolk said on a call with analysts.

The J&J vaccine appears to be durable for at least eight months and effective against prevalent coronavirus variants, Wolk said, citing recently published data from laboratory studies.

An independent study published ahead of peer-review on Monday, however, found the single-shot vaccine may be unable to fend off the Delta variant now dominant in the U.S. and spreading worldwide. Researchers at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine tested serum from vaccinees and found "a significant fraction" of the samples had such low neutralizing antibody levels against the Delta, Delta Plus, Beta and Lambda variants they would be unlikely to offer even 50% protection against infection with those viruses. (https://bit.ly/3eCX4GI)

Because of its one-dose convenience and less onerous storage and shipping requirements, J&J's shot was once touted as an important tool for vaccinations in hard-to-reach areas. But after safety concerns and manufacturing stumbles, it has the lowest uptake in Europe among all the vaccines approved for use, and has also struggled to gain traction in United States.

J&J raised its expectations for overall full-year sales, encouraged by a recovery in sales at its medical devices unit and higher demand for treatments such as psoriasis and Crohn's disease drug Stelara.

The company now expects annual sales in a range of $93.8 billion to $94.6 billion including vaccine revenue, up from a prior forecast of $90.6 billion and $91.6 billion.

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