Moderna said on Friday it was suing Pfizer and and its German partner BioNTech for copying the “groundbreaking technology” behind its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine. Moderna, in a statement, alleged that Pfizer copied the technology that the firm developed years before the Covid pandemic struck in 2020.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had granted emergency use authorisation first to the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine in December 2020. Moderna received the green light one week later.
The lawsuit, which seeks monetary damages, was filed in US District Court in Massachusetts and the Regional Court of Dusseldorf in Germany.
“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 believes that Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine Comirnaty infringes patents Moderna filed between 2010 and 2016 covering Moderna’s foundational mRNA technology,” the company said in a statement.
The mRNA technology used in the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are different from that of traditional vaccines. Traditional vaccines inject weakened or dead forms of a virus to allow the immune system to recognise it and build antibodies.
However, mRNA vaccines deliver instructions to cells on how to make the spike protein found on the crown of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that will trigger an immune response.
The lawsuit shouldn’t have a major effect on vaccine availability. In its statement, Moderna said that it was not looking to remove the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, known commercially as Comirnaty, from the market.
“Moderna expects Pfizer and BioNTech to compensate Moderna for Comirnaty’s ongoing use of Moderna’s patented technologies,” said Shannon Thyme Klinger, Moderna’s chief legal officer, as per the statement.
Moderna said Pfizer/BioNTech appropriated two types of intellectual property. One involved an mRNA structure that Moderna said its scientists began developing in 2010 and were the first to validate in human trials in 2015.
The second alleged infringement involves the coding of a full-length spike protein that Moderna said its scientists developed while creating a vaccine for the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
However, the MERS vaccine never went to market. Its development though helped Moderna rapidly roll out its Covid-19 vaccine.
Moderna’s Covid vaccine, its only commercial product, has brought in $10.4 billion in revenue this year while Pfizer’s vaccine brought in about $22 billion, Reuters reported. After Moderna went public with its suing decision, Pfizer shares fell 1.4 per cent while BioNTech was down about 2 per cent.
Pfizer and BioNTech are already facing multiple lawsuits from other companies who claimed the vaccine infringes on their patents. Pfizer/BioNTech have said they will defend their patents vigorously.