Biopharmaceutical giant Moderna is filing a lawsuit against Pfizer-BioNTech in U.S. and German courts on Friday, alleging patent infringements in the development of its mRNA-based COVID vaccine.
Pfizer’s vaccine, now marketed as Comirnaty, was the first COVID vaccine approved on an emergency basis in the U.S., and in nearly two years since its approval, has been given hundreds of millions of times. But the other mRNA vaccine, which was authorized in the U.S. several weeks later, was based on the same technology and Pfizer didn’t have the right to use it, Moderna argues.
“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 Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna. “This foundational platform, which we began building in 2010, along with our patented work on coronaviruses in 2015 and 2016, enabled us to produce a safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccine in record time after the pandemic struck.”
“As we work to combat health challenges moving forward, Moderna is using our mRNA technology platform to develop medicines that could treat and prevent infectious diseases like influenza and HIV, as well as autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases and rare forms of cancer,” he said.
Pfizer said in a statement Friday morning that it was surprised by the lawsuit.
“Pfizer/BioNTech has not yet fully reviewed the complaint but we are surprised by the litigation given the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine was based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology and developed by both BioNTech and Pfizer,” the company said. “We remain confident in our intellectual property supporting the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and will vigorously defend against the allegations of the lawsuit.”
Moderna says it does not want Pfizer’s vaccine removed from use, and would consider a “reasonable license” should its competitors want to use the vaccine in other markets, particularly in lower-income countries. They are also not seeking damages for the vaccine’s use in lower-income countries. But in other wealthier countries, Moderna is looking for compensation.
“Moderna expects Pfizer and BioNTech to compensate Moderna for Comirnaty®’s ongoing use of Moderna’s patented technologies,” said Moderna’s chief legal officer Shannon Thyme Klinger. “Our mission to create a new generation of transformative medicines for patients by delivering on the promise of mRNA science cannot be achieved without a patent system that rewards and protects innovation.”
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