Moderna sues Pfizer, BioNTech over alleged mRNA patent infringement

Moderna filed a lawsuit against Pfizer and BioNTech claiming the biopharmaceutical companies infringed on Moderna’s patents related to mRNA technology in development of their COVID-19 vaccine.

The lawsuit, to be filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts and Regional Court of Düsseldorf in Germany, alleges Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine Comirnaty infringes on Moderna’s patent filed between 2010 and 2016.

“We believe that Pfizer and BioNTech unlawfully copied Moderna’s inventions, and they have continued to use them without permission,” said Moderna chief legal officer Shannon Thyme Klinger in the company’s press release.

A Pfizer spokesperson told TechCrunch they are stunned by the allegations because “the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology and developed by both BioNTech and Pfizer.”

BioNTech in their statement said they plan on “vigorously [defending] against all allegations of patent infringement.”

“BioNTech also values and respects valid and enforceable intellectual property rights of others and remains confident in its intellectual property,” read the company’s statement. “It is an unfortunate but rather regular occurrence that other companies make allegations that a successful product potentially infringes their intellectual property rights, even more so here after witnessing the historic accomplishments of a vaccine like COMIRNATY®.”

Moderna is accusing the companies of copying two features they claim are “critical to the success of the mRNA vaccines.” One of the features includes a chemical modification to help avoid undesirable immune responses to mRNA, and the other is related to the encoding of the spike protein in a lipid molecule.

The company is currently seeking monetary damages, but isn’t looking for an injunction to force Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine off the market.

“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,” said Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Bancel in the release. “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.”

Moderna announced they began development on mRNA vaccines targeting the seasonal flu, HIV and Nipah virus back in 2021.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 360 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the country. Moderna has had close to 230 million doses administered.