Moderna is suing Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech for patent infringement in the development of the first Covid-19 vaccine approved in the United States, alleging they copied technology that Moderna developed years before the pandemic.
The lawsuit, which seeks undetermined monetary damages, was being filed in US District Court in Massachusetts and the Regional Court of Dusseldorf in Germany, Moderna said in a news release on Friday (Aug 26).
“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 Stephane Bancel said in the statement.
Moderna, on its own, and the partnership of Pfizer and BioNTech were two of the first groups to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
Just a decade old, Moderna, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had been an innovator in the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology that enabled the unprecedented speed in developing the Covid-19 vaccine.
An approval process that previously took years was completed in months, thanks largely to the breakthrough in mRNA vaccines, which teach human cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response.
Germany-based BioNTech had also been working in this field when it partnered with the US pharma giant Pfizer.
The US Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the Covid-19 vaccine first to Pfizer/BioNTech in December 2020, then one week later to Moderna.
Moderna’s Covid vaccine – its lone commercial product – has brought in $10.4 billion in revenue this year while Pfizer’s vaccine brought in about $22 billion.
Moderna alleges Pfizer/BioNTech, without permission, copied mRNA technology that Moderna had patented between 2010 and 2016, well before Covid-19 emerged in 2019 and exploded into global consciousness in early 2020.
Early in the pandemic, Moderna said it would not enforce its Covid-19 patents to help others develop their own vaccines, particularly for low- and middle-income countries. But in March 2022, Moderna said it expected companies such as Pfizer and BioNTech to respect its intellectual property rights. It said it would not seek damages for any activity before March 8, 2022.
Patent litigation is not uncommon in the early stages of new technology.
Pfizer and BioNTech are already facing multiple lawsuits from other companies who say the partnership’s vaccine infringes on their patents. Pfizer/BioNTech have said they will defend their patents vigorously.