Moderna sues Pfizer, BioNTech over Covid-19 vaccine technology

Moderna accused Pfizer and BioNTech of violating intellectual property rights on key elements of Moderna's mRNA technology. PHOTO: AFP

BOSTON (BLOOMBERG) - Moderna said on Friday (Aug 26) it is suing Pfizer and BioNTech, claiming that the technology in their Covid-19 shot infringes on its patents.

The move sets the stage for a massive legal clash between the vaccine titans.

Moderna accused Pfizer and BioNTech of violating intellectual property rights on key elements of Moderna's messenger RNA (mRNA) technology in developing the Comirnaty vaccine.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna said it had patents from 2010 to 2016 on the mRNA technology that made its Spikevax shot possible but that the other two companies copied the technology without permission.

Pfizer and BioNTech "took four different candidates into clinical testing, including options that would have steered clear of Moderna's innovative path by using unmodified mRNA", according to a lawsuit filed on Friday in the US District Court in Massachusetts.

"Ultimately, however, Pfizer and BioNTech discarded those alternatives and copied Moderna's patented technology."

Moderna said it is also filing suit in Germany. That complaint could not immediately be verified.

Pfizer said it has not been served with a lawsuit and could not comment. Representatives for BioNTech did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pfizer shares fell 0.8 per cent in early trading before US markets opened, while BioNTech's American depositary receipts fell 2.1 per cent. Moderna shares were little changed.

Seeking damages

Moderna said it is neither asking the courts to pull the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine from the market nor to block future sales. The company is seeking damages for the period starting March 8 of this year and says it will not seek damages for Pfizer's sales to 92 lower- and middle-income countries.

Early in the Covid-19 crisis, Moderna promised not to enforce its intellectual property during the pandemic, but on March 7, it modified that pledge to apply only to lower-income countries, essentially making this litigation possible.

"We are filing these lawsuits to protect the innovative mRNA technology platform that we pioneered, invested billions of dollars in creating, and patented during the decade preceding the Covid-19 pandemic," said Moderna chief executive officer Stephane Bancel in a statement.

The mRNA vaccines have played a crucial role in the pandemic response, particularly in the United States.

Pfizer last year recorded almost US$37 billion (S$51 billion) in sales from Comirnaty, while Moderna posted roughly US$18 billion of revenue from Spikevax.

Intellectual property battles over technology used in both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are proliferating.

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals earlier this year sued Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech over the lipid nanoparticle technology used in both of their Covid-19 vaccines.

Moderna has sparred with the National Institutes of Health in the US over whether to list the agency's scientists as inventors on patents for Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine.

Moderna said Pfizer and BioNTech had other options but "decided to proceed with a vaccine that has the same exact mRNA chemical modification to its vaccine" as Moderna's shot.

Moderna also accused Pfizer and BioNTech of copying its approach of encoding a full-length spike protein in a lipid nanoparticle.

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