Moderna is taking Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech to court, claiming the rival drugmakers copied its technology in developing their COVID-19 vaccine.
In documents filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts and in Germany, Moderna claims Pfizer and BioNTech violated its intellectual property rights on key parts of its messenger RNA technology, which it had patents on from 2010 to 2016.
Moderna pioneered the technology and invested billions of dollars in developing it, CEO Stephane Bancel said on Friday in a company statement.
“We believe that Pfizer and BioNTech unlawfully copied Moderna’s inventions, and they have continued to use them without permission,” Shannon Thyme Klinger, chief legal officer for Moderna, a biotechnology startup based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, also said in the statement.
Pfizer and BioNTech expressed confidence in the intellectual property behind their joint vaccine, saying it would fight the allegations.
While the vaccine partners have not yet fully reviewed the complaint, “we are surprised by the litigation given the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology and developed by both BioNTech and Pfizer,” they said in a statement.
The decades of development behind mRNA vaccine technology
Moderna and Pfizer’s two-shot vaccines both use mRNA technology to help patients fight the coronavirus. Those vaccines work by injecting a genetic code for the spike protein that coats the surface of the coronavirus.
Both companies “took four different candidates into clinical testing, including options that would have steered clear of Moderna’s innovative path by using unmodified mRNA,” Moderna stated in its suit. “Ultimately, however, Pfizer and BioNTech discarded those alternatives and copied Moderna’s patented technology.”
Moderna is not asking that courts take the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine off the market or to stop future sales, in view of the public need for the vaccines. Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines have been the mainstays of the U.S. effort to curtail the pandemic, with the virus killing more than a million Americans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.