Three Product Development Secrets: Learnings from Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J

Three Product Development Secrets: Learnings from Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J

April 6, 2021 Comments Off on Three Product Development Secrets: Learnings from Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J Blog Post Snowfish

In possibly the greatest product development race of this century, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson (J&J) have emerged victorious. These firms beat out 6 other pharmaceutical companies, including titans AstraZeneca PLC and GlaxoSmithKline, in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

A lot of lessons should be learned from this pandemic. For this post, we want to zoom in on the COVID-19 vaccine race and help you learn from gold, silver, and bronze medalists Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J.

#1 Leverage Strategic Partnerships

As a Pfizer recipient myself, I often forget to credit the other company responsible for developing its vaccine, BioNTech. To develop its vaccine, Pfizer leveraged an existing partnership with the Germany-based firm.

According to Reuters, Pfizer and BioNTech were originally working together on a mRNA-based flu vaccine. Pfizer’s quick recognition of its BioNTech’s mRNA assets allowed it to quickly pivot to developing a coronavirus vaccine.

Notice here that Pfizer did not embark on a spending spree. While the 750-million-dollar deal with BioNTech is no small price, Pfizer did not resort to the common industry practice of acquiring a company with the treatment in its pipeline. That was a strong move on Pfizer’s part as our research indicates that pharmaceutical mergers and acquisitions do not generate much growth anyway.  

When looking at your own firm’s pipelines, take stock of who you are partnering with. While a billion-dollar acquisition sounds promising, Pfizer proved that an existing million-dollar partnership can get the job done just as well.   

For more on strategic partnership management, please see our post on how to successfully manage strategic partnerships for product development.

Bonus Tip: Companies do not just make this mistake with product development; they also make it with Key Opinion Leader Identification and Mapping. I often point out to clients that they have existing relationships with particular societies that they did not even know they had.

#2 Do not be afraid to take the road less traveled

In contrast to other companies in the race, Pfizer and Moderna were not afraid to try out novel technology. According to Forbes, Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines employ “messenger-Ribonucleic acid … a novel technology, where an information carrying biomolecule instructs body cells to make copies of the S protein of the virus, recognize it and build antibodies to fight it once it attacks the body.”

Forbes continued that “The main advantage of an mRNA vaccine is its quicker development timeline as the vaccine can be delivered with lower dosing requirements and can be produced in larger quantities rapidly.”

Despite its novelty, Pfizer and Moderna forged ahead with this revolutionary technology and were rewarded handsomely for it. In contrast, AstraZeneca, whose vaccine uses the more traditional vector, has yet to be approved in the U.S. It has also been associated with certain side effects and linked to 14 deaths.

In terms of your own firm, do not fear developing a treatment with novel technology. Of course, when deciding to use prospective technology, it is important to perform a comprehensive market assessment which leverages multiple sources and see if they are in alignment.

Nevertheless, utilizing revolutionary technology can be a game-changer.

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#3 Time is of the essence for product development

To quote Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, “If you aren’t first, you are last.” In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine race, this wisdom holds water if your firm is not named Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson.

Novavax, whose stock soared on the hopes of a successful COVID-19 vaccine, and other companies yet to be approved seem to be finishing last. Although Novavax released positive data about their vaccine candidate, including a 96.4% efficacy against non-variant coronavirus forms, it appears that Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J have already saturated the EU and North American markets.

As a result of the need for countries to vaccinate as many citizens as possible, many governments have already contracted doses from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Jonson. In the U.S, the Biden Administration has already contracted 600 million doses from Pfizer and Moderna, enough to inoculate 300 million people.

Additionally, the Biden Administration plans to purchase 100 million doses of the J&J vaccine. In sum, the U.S will have the equivalent of 400 million does (Pfizer and Moderna are two dose vaccines) to vaccinate 330 million people, rendering any additional purchases unnecessary.

For Novavax, because they failed to rapidly develop their coronavirus vaccine, they have been virtually frozen out of the U.S market. In Europe, Novavax fairs no better as the EU has already purchased 500 million doses of Pfizer/Biotech and reached a deal to purchase an additional 200 million doses. The EU also plans to purchase 150 million doses of Moderna.

So, while safety and efficacy of a treatment are truly the highest priority, you should not ignore time. By being the first to market, Pfizer and Moderna virtually own the COVID-19 vaccine market.  

Bonus Tip: Overcoming poor time to market

In an ideal world, your product is first to market and you reap the benefits. However, I understand that time to market rarely is ideal.

Your company will develop revolutionary treatments but may not necessarily be the first to do it. 

All is not lost. 

You can still launch a successful product despite not being first. In the case of Novavax, AstraZeneca, and GSK, they can target a niche group for their vaccine. Niche groups can include people with certain comorbidities, the elderly, and children. 

Likewise, another selling point for these companies could be their effectiveness against the variants. Although Pfizer has recently asserted that its vaccine is 91% effective at preventing COVID-19, citing updated trial data from participants who have been inoculated for six months, its partner BioNTech stressed the need for booster shots. 

Novavax, in recent trial data, posited that its vaccine candidate is 85.6% effective against the U.K variant and 60% effective against the South African variant. Novavax’s effectiveness against the variants could help it achieve success because it provides a strategic differentiator.

While not ideal, your firm can be late to the game when it comes to product development and launch. You must have a strategic differentiator for your product. One of our clients, Daiichi Sankyo, was able to become number one in market share for its antihypertensive agent Benicar despite being initially last to market. They did it by an aggressive evidence-rich approach which included a strategy which included strong stakeholder relationships and targeting certain patient populations. 


Even in an unprecedented time such as the coronavirus pandemic, it pays to pay attention to the winners and losers in a particular market. By leveraging strategic partnerships, utilizing novel technology, and beating competitors to market, your firm can become the front-runner in a disease state.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post. If you would like Snowfish to help you make the most of your strategic partnerships for product development, please call us at 703-759-6100.

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Dave Fishman is President at Snowfish. For over 20 years, Snowfish has been saving leading pharma, biotech, and med device companies time, energy, and money by providing actionable insights in the life science space. Schedule a free consultation for your needs here.

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