COVID vaccines mint new billionaires as BioNTech and Moderna CEOs' wealth soars

·5 min read
BRAZIL - 2021/05/06: In this photo illustration a hand holding a medical syringe is seen with main coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine logos displayed on a screen in the background. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
COVID vaccines have boosted many big pharmaceutical firms, leading to increased sales and revenues. Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The coronavirus crisis has wrecked havoc since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a pandemic in 2020, sending financial markets into the red and plunging global economies into recession. 

Despite that, it has also captured a snapshot of the impact of the crisis on the wealthy. 

Vaccine billionaires are being created as stocks in pharmaceutical organisations rise in anticipation of huge profits from the COVID-19 vaccines over which these firms have monopoly control, new research says.

According to a study from the People's Vaccines Alliance, more people have become new billionaires since COVID, thanks to vaccine-related sales and profits at pharmaceutical companies.

At least nine people have become new billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic, with a combined net wealth of $19.3bn (£13.6bn).

Moderna (MRNA) CEO Stephane Bancel and BioNTech's (BNTX) Ugur Sahin, each with a wealth of $4.3bn and $4bn respectively, topped the list of new billionaires cashing in on the success of COVID vaccines. 

The list also includes two of Moderna’s founding investors and the firm’s chair as well as the CEO of a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna jab, despite Moderna receiving billions in taxpayer funding. 

The final three new vaccine billionaires are all co-founders of the Chinese vaccine company CanSino Biologics (6185.HK).

The nine new vaccine billionaires:

  1. Stéphane Bancel — Moderna’s CEO (worth $4.3bn)

  2. Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech (worth $4bn)

  3. Timothy Springer — an immunologist and founding investor of Moderna (worth $2.2bn)

  4. Noubar Afeyan — Moderna’s Chairman (worth $1.9bn)

  5. Juan Lopez-Belmonte — Chairman of ROVI, a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna vaccine (worth $1.8bn)

  6. Robert Langer — a scientist and founding investor in Moderna (worth $1.6bn)

  7. Zhu Tao co-founder and chief scientific officer at CanSino Biologics (worth $1.3bn)

  8. Qiu Dongxu, co-founder and senior vice president at CanSino Biologics (worth $1.2bn)

  9. Mao Huinhoa, also co-founder and senior vice-president at CanSino Biologics (worth $1bn)

In addition, the combined wealth of eight existing billionaires — who have extensive portfolios in the COVID-19 vaccine firms — increased by $32.2bn, according to the Alliance. 

The eight vaccine billionaires who saw their wealth increase. Image: People's Vaccine Alliance
The eight vaccine billionaires who saw their wealth increase. Image: People's Vaccine Alliance

Campaigners from the People’s Vaccine Alliance, which include members from Global Justice Now, Oxfam and UNAIDS, analysed Forbes Rich List data to highlight the wealth being generated for a handful of people from vaccines which were largely public funded.

Watch: BioNTech co-founder 'confident' vaccine works against Indian variant 

"These billionaires are the human face of the huge profits many pharmaceutical corporations are making from the monopoly they hold on these vaccines," said Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager.

It warned that the monopolies give firms control over the supply and price of vaccines, pushing up their profits while making it especially harder for poor nations, to secure the deliveries they need. 

Read more: AstraZeneca delivers $275m in sales from COVID vaccine

The news comes ahead of Thursday's G20 Global Health Summit, where key members, including leaders from the UK and Germany are seeking to block moves to boost supply by ending firms’ monopoly control of vaccine production. 

COVID-19 continues to devastate countries like India and Nepal, where a small fraction of the population have been vaccinated. Meanwhile, these countries "received only 0.2%" of global vaccine supplies, due to a "massive shortfall" in available doses, despite being home to 10% of the world’s population, the group said. 

"These vaccines were funded by public money and should be first and foremost a global public good, not a private profit opportunity," Marriott added. "We need to urgently end these monopolies so that we can scale up vaccine production, drive down prices and vaccinate the world." 

So far, shares in Moderna rose 123% in the last year due to vaccine sales. 

Chart: Yahoo Finance
Chart: Yahoo Finance

"While the companies making massive profits from COVID vaccines are refusing to share their science and technology with others in order to increase the global vaccine supply, the world continues to face the very real risk of mutations that could render the vaccines we have ineffective and put everyone at risk all over again," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS.

Read more: GSK and Sanofi optimistic about COVID vaccine after phase 2 trials

COVID vaccines have boosted many big pharmaceutical firms, leading to increased sales and revenues. 

Earlier this month, Moderna posted its first ever quarterly profit for the first three months of 2021, boosted by the delivery of 102 million coronavirus vaccines. It also upgraded its 2021 sales forecast for the COVID vaccine to $19.2bn after the product generated $1.7bn in Q1.

Meanwhile, Pfizer's (PFE) COVID vaccine contributed $3.5bn in the pharmaceutical giant's sales for the first quarter. Sales of the two-shot jab made up nearly 25% of the drugmaker's Q1 $14.6bn revenues. 

In April, AstraZeneca (AZN.L) announced its COVID vaccine contributed $275m in sales after posting a better-than-expected Q1 results.

Revenues at the company grew 15% to $7.3bn in the first three months of 2021. Vaccine revenue included delivery of approximately 68 million global doses, AstraZeneca said. Profit after tax jumped from £750m to £1.56bn.

While it was the first time the drugmaker posted financial details from the distribution and sales of its vaccine, the FTSE 100 (^FTSE) firm said it will not make a profit from the jab it created in collaboration with the University of Oxford during the pandemic.

Watch: Coronavirus vaccines in numbers: 36.8 million receive their first dose