Moderna sues Pfizer/BioNTech for infringing its patent on the Covid vaccine

On Friday, Moderna sued Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech for patent infringement in developing the first Covid-19 vaccine approved in the United States, alleging that the defendants copied technology Moderna developed years before the pandemic.

Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna’s shares declined approximately one percent.

The lawsuit seeking unspecified monetary damages was filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts. Friday, Moderna announced in a press release that the suit would also be filed in Germany’s Duesseldorf Regional Court.

A representative of the Duesseldorf court told Reuters, “I cannot confirm the receipt of such a claim at this time.”

“We are filing these lawsuits to protect the innovative mRNA technology platform that we pioneered, invested billions of dollars in developing, and patented in the decade preceding the Covid-19 pandemic,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel stated in a press release.

Moderna stated that the purpose of its lawsuit was not to prevent people from receiving vaccinations.

Moderna Inc on its own and the partnership of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech were among the first to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

In an emailed statement, a Pfizer representative said, “Pfizer/BioNTech has not yet reviewed the complaint in its entirety, but we are surprised by the litigation given that the Covid-19 vaccine was based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology and was jointly developed by BioNTech and Pfizer.”

“We remain confident in the intellectual property that supports the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and will vigorously defend ourselves against the lawsuit’s allegations,” the spokesperson stated.

BioNTech did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Moderna, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was only a decade old when it pioneered the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology, which accelerated the development of the Covid-19 vaccine at an unprecedented rate. Due largely to the development of mRNA vaccines, which instruct human cells on how to produce a protein that will elicit an immune response, a process that formerly required years was completed in months.

Before forming a partnership with the U.S. pharmaceutical behemoth Pfizer, BioNTech, a German company, had been working in this field.

In December 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna emergency use authorization for the Covid-19 vaccine, respectively.

Moderna’s sole commercial product, the Covid vaccine, has generated $10,4 billion in revenue this year, compared to $22 billion for Pfizer’s vaccine.

Tyler Van Buren, an analyst at Cowen & Co, believes the lawsuit will likely last for years.

Moderna alleges that Pfizer/BioNTech unlawfully copied the mRNA technology that Moderna had patented between 2010 and 2016, well before Covid-19 emerged in 2019 and exploded onto the global scene in early 2020.

Early in the pandemic, Moderna announced that it would not enforce its Covid-19 patents to assist others in developing their vaccines, especially for low- and middle-income nations. However, in March 2022, Moderna stated that it anticipated companies like Pfizer and BioNTech to respect its intellectual property rights. As a result, it said it would not seek damages for any activity before March 8, 2022.

Patent disputes are common in the early stages of a technology’s development.

Multiple lawsuits have already been filed against Pfizer and BioNTech, alleging that their vaccine infringes upon other companies’ patents. Pfizer and BioNTech have stated that they will defend their patents vigorously.

In July, CureVac, a German company, also filed a lawsuit against BioNTech in Germany. In a statement, BioNTech responded that its work was original.

Moderna has also been sued for patent infringement in the United States and has an ongoing dispute over mRNA technology rights with the United States National Institutes of Health.

Moderna stated in a statement released on Friday that Pfizer/BioNTech misappropriated two types of intellectual property.

The first involved an mRNA structure that Moderna’s scientists began developing in 2010 and were the first to validate in human trials in 2015.

“Pfizer and BioNTech tested four distinct vaccine candidates in clinical trials, including options that would have avoided Moderna’s innovative approach. “However, Pfizer and BioNTech ultimately decided to move forward with a vaccine that has the same mRNA chemical modification as their vaccine,” said Moderna.

The second alleged infringement involves coding a full-length spike protein that Moderna’s scientists allegedly created while developing a vaccine against the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Although the MERS vaccine was never commercialized, its development aided Moderna in launching its Covid-19 vaccine more quickly.