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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Angelica Peebles, Robert Langreth

Moderna sues Pfizer, BioNTech over COVID vaccine technology

Moderna Inc. sued Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, claiming the technology in their COVID-19 shot infringes on its patents, a move that 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 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 a lawsuit filed 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’s also filing suit in Germany. That complaint couldn’t immediately be verified. Pfizer said it has not been served with a lawsuit and couldn’t comment. Representatives for BioNTech didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

Moderna said it’s not asking the courts to pull the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID 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 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,” Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said in a statement.

The mRNA vaccines have played a crucial role in the pandemic response, particularly in the US. Pfizer last year recorded almost $37 billion in sales from Comirnaty, while Moderna posted roughly $18 billion of revenue from Spikevax.

Intellectual property battles over technology used in both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are proliferating. Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. earlier this year sued Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech over the lipid nanoparticle technology used in both of their COVID vaccines. Moderna has sparred with the National Institutes of Health over whether to list the agency’s scientists as inventors on patents for Moderna’s COVID 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.

The case is Moderna v. Pfizer, 22-cv-11378, US District Court, District of Massachusetts.

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