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Moderna sues Pfizer for “infringing” its patent on the Covid-19 vaccine

First modification: 26/08/2022 – 17:45

In a Massachusetts court, the US drugmaker Moderna sued its main competitor Pfizer and the German drugmaker BioNTech. The complainant company accuses them of copying its mRNA technology, with which it claims it was a pioneer, to manufacture its vaccine against Covid-19.

Moderna believes that Pfizer and BioNTech copied two key features of their technologies, patented years before the pandemic, to create the Covid-19 vaccine from pharmaceutical rivals.

For this reason, the allegedly affected pharmaceutical reported on August 26 that it sued its American counterpart and the manufacturer with which it was associated in the creation of these drugs: the German laboratory BioNTech.

“We are filing these lawsuits to protect the groundbreaking mRNA technology platform that we pioneered, spent billions of dollars to create, and patented over the decade before the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. Moderna executive Stephane Bancel.


Moderna and Pfizer, allied with BioNTech, were two of the first groups to develop a vaccine to mitigate the virus that has hit the planet since its appearance more than two years ago.

Yet only a decade old, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna claims to have been an innovator in messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology, enabling unprecedented speed in developing a drug against the illness.

What features would have been replicated without authorization?

According to Moderna, its competitors would have appropriated two types of intellectual property. Specifically, one involved an mRNA structure that Moderna says its scientists began developing in 2010 and were the first to validate in human trials in 2015.

“Pfizer and BioNTech took four different vaccine candidates into clinical trials, which included options that would have strayed from Moderna’s innovative path. However, Pfizer and BioNTech ultimately decided to go ahead with a vaccine that has the exact same mRNA chemical modification.” Moderna stated in its statement.

The aforementioned technology works by injecting a genetic code for the spike protein that coats the surface of the coronavirus. That code, the mRNA, is encased in a little ball of fat and instructs the body’s cells to make a few copies of harmless spikes that train the immune system to recognize the real virus.

That approach is radically different from how vaccines have traditionally been done.

File- Vials with labels of vaccines against Covid-19, from the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are seen in this illustrative image, taken on March 19, 2021. © ©Reuters/Dado Ruvic

The second alleged breach involves encoding a full-length spike protein that Moderna claims its scientists developed while creating a vaccine against the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Although the MERS vaccine never came to market, its development helped Moderna quickly launch its antidote to the new coronavirus, which first appeared in China.

“They illegally copied Moderna’s inventions and have continued to use them without permission,” said drugmaker legal director Shannon Thyme Klinger.

The lawsuit, seeking indeterminate monetary damages, was filed in the US District Court in Massachusetts and in the Regional Court in Düsseldorf, Germany, Moderna specified in a press release.

Moderna had agreed not to claim rights to its patent

Moderna acknowledges that in October 2020, months after the official declaration of the pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), in March of that same year, it undertook not to claim its rights over patents related to the Covid-19. All in order to help others develop their own vaccines, particularly for low- and middle-income countries.

However, in March 2022, the company updated that commitment as the collective fight against the virus “entered a new phase and vaccine supply ceased to be a barrier to access in many parts of the world,” it noted.

Therefore, the plaintiff pharmaceutical maintains, it would not demand any claim in the 92 countries considered economically vulnerable, but it hoped that companies such as Pfizer and BioNTech would respect its intellectual property rights. Moderna also indicates that it would not seek damages for any activity before March 8 of this year.

Known as mRNA-1273.214, the dose is an updated version of the Moderna vaccine that is already given as a first, second, and booster dose.

Known as mRNA-1273.214, the dose is an updated version of the Moderna vaccine that is already given as a first, second, and booster dose. REUTERS – DADO RUVIC

Patent litigation has become common after the development of new technology.

Pfizer and BioNTech are already facing multiple lawsuits from other companies that say their vaccine infringes on their patents. However, the accused laboratories have previously indicated that they will vigorously defend their patents.

CureVac 5cv.DE of Germany, for example, also filed a lawsuit against BioNTech in that country last July. The accused company responded in a statement that their work is original.

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

With Reuters, AP and EFE

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