Moderna said it is suing rival vaccine maker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, alleging infringement of its patents in the development of the first COVID-19 vaccine approved in the United States, alleging they copied technology that Moderna had developed years before the pandemic.
The lawsuits have set up a high-stakes showdown between major makers of COVID-19 vaccines that are a key tool in the fight against the disease.
“Moderna believes Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, infringes patents filed by Moderna between 2010 and 2016 covering Moderna’s core mRNA technology,” the U.S.-based biotech company said on Friday. in a press release.
“Pfizer and BioNTech copied this technology, without Moderna’s permission, to create Comirnaty,” Moderna said.
Pfizer and BioNTech said they had not fully investigated the complaint, but expressed surprise at the litigation.
“The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine was based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology,” a statement read. “We will vigorously defend ourselves against the allegations in the lawsuit.”
When the news broke, Pfizer shares fell nearly 1%, while US-listed BioNTech shares were down about 1.5% and Moderna shares fell 1.7%.
The lawsuit, which seeks indeterminate damages, was filed in US District Court for the state of Massachusetts. Moderna said the lawsuit will also be filed in the Düsseldorf Regional Court in Germany.
Just a decade, Modernbased in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had been an innovator in messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology that enabled unprecedented speed in COVID-19 vaccine development.
The mRNA technology used in Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines differs from traditional vaccines, which rely on injecting weakened or dead forms of a virus to allow the immune system to recognize it and make antibodies .
Instead, mRNA vaccines provide instructions for cells to build a harmless piece of the spike protein found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. After creating this advanced protein, cells can recognize and fight off the real virus, hailed as a major breakthrough in vaccine development.
The German company BioNTech was also working in this field when it joined forces with the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
Lawsuits can take years to resolve
Moderna said it began developing the technology in 2010 and patented work on coronaviruses in 2015 and 2016, which enabled its snaps to be deployed in “record time” after the pandemic hit.
The virus has killed at least 6.48 million people worldwide since 2020 and sickened nearly 600 million, according to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University.
In addition to death and suffering, the disease has led to a redesign of life ranging from changing norms on working from home to scrambling supply chains and workforces.
Moderna said it pledged in October 2020 not to enforce its COVID-19-related patents while the pandemic continued, but less than two years later changed that stance as the fight changed course. speed.
“Moderna expected companies such as Pfizer and BioNTech to respect its intellectual property rights and would consider a commercially reasonable license if they requested one for other markets,” he said.
“Pfizer and BioNTech failed to do so,” the company added.
Pfizer and BioNTech already face multiple lawsuits from other companies that claim the partnership’s vaccine infringes their patents.
Germany’s CureVac, for example, also filed a lawsuit against BioNTech in Germany in July. BioNTech responded in a statement that its work was original.
Moderna has also been sued for patent infringement in the US and has an ongoing dispute with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) over mRNA technology rights.
These types of lawsuits are not unheard of in the pharmaceutical industry, where patents can be worth billions of dollars and can take years to resolve.