Dispute over patent leading to COVID-19 vaccine at the centre of new lawsuit

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine vials. (Photo courtesy of the Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit)

Moderna is suing Pfizer and BioNTech, alleging those companies unlawfully infringed on its mRNA technology to create their COVID-19 vaccines.

Moderna announced the lawsuit Friday morning in a press release.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts and the Regional Court of Dusseldorf, Germany.

“We believe that Pfizer and BioNTech unlawfully copied Moderna’s inventions, and they have continued to use them without permission,” Moderna Chief Legal Officer Shannon Thyme Klinger said. “Outside of AMC (Advance Market Commitment) 92 countries, where vaccine supply is no longer a barrier to access, Moderna expects Pfizer and BioNTech to compensate Moderna for Comirnaty’s ongoing use of Moderna’s patented technologies.”

The GAVI COVAX Advance Market Commitment is an agreement that richer countries would financially support vaccine distribution in 92 middle and low-income countries.

Moderna said it filed patents between 2010 and 2016 covering its mRNA technology, critical to the development of its vaccine.

The company said the patent allowed it to “produce a safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccine in record time after the pandemic struck.”

The release stated, “Pfizer and BioNTech took four different vaccine candidates into clinical testing — however, ultimately decided to proceed with a vaccine that has the same mRNA chemical modification as Moderna’s Spikevax.” It alleges those companies then copied “Moderna’s approach to encoding for the full-length spike protein in a lipid nanoparticle formulation for a coronavirus.”

Moderna innovated that approach when it developed a vaccine for the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome years before COVID-19 emerged.

Moderna pledged not to enforce its COVID-19-related patents during the pandemic, but in March 2022, it made clear it expected companies like Pfizer and BioNTech would respect the patents and ask for a commercial license to use the technology. Moderna claims they have not.

Moderna is not asking for Pfizer to remove its vaccine from the market since some countries still rely on it.