COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna is suing Pfizer and German drugmaker BioNTech, accusing its main competitors of copying Moderna’s technology in order to make their own vaccine.
Moderna said Friday that the Comirnaty vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech infringes patents Moderna filed several years ago to protect the technology behind its preventative vaccine, Spikevax. The company filed patent infringement suits in US federal court and a German court.
Pfizer spokeswoman Pam Eisele said the company hasn’t fully reviewed Moderna’s lawsuit, but the drugmaker was surprised by this, given that its vaccine is based on proprietary technology developed at the both by BioNTech and Pfizer.
She said in an email that New York-based Pfizer Inc. would “vigorously defend itself” against any allegations in the case. BioNTech said in a statement late Friday that its work was “original” and that it too would fight back.
The two-shot vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer both use mRNA technology to help people fight the coronavirus.
“When COVID-19 emerged, neither Pfizer nor BioNTech had Moderna’s level of experience developing mRNA coronavirus vaccines,” Moderna said in a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the District. from Massachusetts.
mRNA vaccines work by injecting genetic code for the spike protein that coats the surface of the coronavirus. This code, mRNA, is encased in a small ball of fat and instructs cells in the body to make harmless spike copies that train the immune system to recognize the real virus.
This approach is radically different from how vaccines have traditionally been made.
Moderna said it began developing its mRNA technology platform in 2010, which helped the company quickly produce its COVID-19 vaccine after the pandemic hit in early 2020.
By the end of that year, US regulators had cleared injections from Pfizer and Moderna for use after clinical research showed both to be highly effective.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a prepared statement that the vaccine developer pioneered the technology and invested billions of dollars in its creation.
Moderna worked with scientists at the National Institutes of Health to test and develop its COVID-19 vaccine. The company said its lawsuit is not related to any patent rights generated during this collaboration.
The company said it believes its rivals’ vaccine infringes patents filed by Moderna between 2010 and 2016.
Moderna said in its complaint that Pfizer and BioNTech had copied some key features of its technology, including making “exactly the same chemical modification to their mRNA that Moderna scientists first developed years before” and that they had then used in Spikevax.
Moderna said it recognizes the importance of access to vaccines and is not seeking to take Comirnaty off the market. Nor is he seeking an injunction to prevent future sales.
Moderna said in 2020 that it would not enforce its COVID-19 related patents while the pandemic continued. But the company said in March, with vaccine supplies improving globally, it would update that pledge.
He said he still would not enforce his patents for vaccines used in low- and middle-income countries. But he expected companies like Pfizer and BioNTech to respect his intellectual property, and he would consider “a commercially reasonable license” in other markets if they asked for one.
“Pfizer and BioNTech failed to do so,” Moderna said in a statement.
Vaccines quickly became the world’s top-selling products.
Pfizer’s Comirnaty had more than $36 billion in sales worldwide last year, and analysts expect it to bring in nearly $33 billion this year, according to FactSet.
Moderna Inc. reported $17.6 billion in revenue from its vaccine last year. Analysts predict more than $21 billion in 2022. Spikevax is Moderna’s only product on the market, but it is developing other vaccines using mRNA technology.
The Cambridge, Mass.-based company’s stock trades under the symbol MRNA.
Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard and Frank Jordans contributed to this report from Washington, DC and Berlin respectively. Murphy reported from Indianapolis.