Moderna sued Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on Friday for patent infringement in the development of the first COVID-19 vaccine approved in the United States (US), alleging they copied technology that Moderna developed years before the pandemic.
The lawsuit, which seeks undetermined monetary damages, was filed in US District Court in Massachusetts. The suit also would be filed also in the Regional Court of Duesseldorf in Germany, Moderna said in a news release.
“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 news release.
Moderna Inc (MRNA.O), on its own, and the partnership of Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and BioNTech SE (22UAy.DE) were two of the first groups to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, leading to a revenue windfall.
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.
Pfizer said the company was confident in its intellectual property and would vigorously defend against the allegations.
“We are surprised by the litigation given the COVID-19 vaccine was based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology and developed by both BioNTech and Pfizer,” a Pfizer spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
BioNTech called the lawsuit “unfortunate” and declared its work was original.
“We will vigorously defend against all allegations of patent infringement,” the company said in a statement.
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.
BioNTech had also been working in this field when it partnered with the U.S. pharma giant Pfizer.
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.
Moderna said its lawsuit was not meant to stop people from getting vaccines, and it repeated its pledge to never enforce its COVID-19 patents in 92 low- and middle-income countries.
But Moderna said it did expect companies such as Pfizer and BioNTech to respect its intellectual property rights, and it is seeking royalty payments based on sales after March 8, 2022, and excluding sales to the US government or to low-income countries.