Why Moderna Is Suddenly Suing Pfizer

In a surprising turn of events, two of the largest COVID vaccine developers, Moderna and Pfizer, are about to be embroiled in a legal battle.

By Joseph Farago | Published

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Two companies responsible for helping quell the COVID pandemic are now in a litigation war. It was announced recently that Moderna is suing the healthcare and tech company Pfizer for infringing upon mRNA patents. Moderna chief executive officer Stéphane Bancel released a statement today discussing the reasoning behind the lawsuit and why it’s imperative to the company and vaccine technology’s longevity.

Bancel said the lawsuit isn’t to undermine Pfizer’s innovations but to protect the mRNA technology that Moderna discovered. The invention was created after billions of dollars were funded into the program, and Bancel believes it’s her company’s right to defend their remarkable progress. This statement comes after years of inner and external debate about the ethics around patenting life-saving drugs. Though Modern claimed in 2020 that it would not condemn those using the mRNA technology during the pandemic, it seems like the company is singing a different tune today.

During the height of the pandemic, there was excessive red tape that prohibited many countries from opening facilities to manufacture vaccines. Though Moderna and Pfizer agreed not to enforce repercussions on governments and nations who needed to use the technology, they didn’t make it easy either. Now, Moderna is suing Pfizer for allegedly crossing their patent agreements and not respecting their intellectual property. Though this contradicts Moderna’s 2020 claim that they wouldn’t sue during the pandemic, the company has shifted its focus.

Moderna’s lawsuit specifically targets Pfizer’s vaccine and states that the manufacturing of the immunization infringes upon their intellectual property. Still, the company doesn’t want to remove the Pfizer vaccine and its availability but wants proper compensation. According to Shannon Thyme Klinger, Moderna’s chief legal officer, the biotech company wants Pfizer to compensate for “Moderna’s patented technologies” and Pfizer’s continual use of their innovations. Moderna won’t sue for other tangential issues, like Pfizer selling its product to the US government.

The lawsuit won’t be as cut and dry as Moderna expects. The filing is based on allegations that Pfizer took two elements of Moderna’s mRNA vaccines to produce its own immunization, Cormirnaty. The first element is a chemical modification that prevents the body from reacting negatively to the injection. The second possibly stolen component is the vaccine technology that recognizes and targets the coronavirus’s spike protein. This could infringe upon Moderna’s previous work on the MERS spike-protein-based vaccines, which already have patents.

Though Moderna has caught the attention of the media recently, it’s far from the only biotech company that’s highly litigious. Both Moderna and Pfizer are being sued by other companies who believe the defendants have crossed an intellectual property line. Moderna is being sued by Arbutus Biopharma and Genevant Sciences for the company’s packaging process of the mRNA vaccine. Alnylam is another company suing both Moderna and Pfizer for its packaging methods, which allegedly violates Alnylam’s copyright.

Unfortunately for the globe, COVID-19 is still circulating and producing new strands of the contagion. This fall, though, there’s some hope. A recent vaccination from Pfizer is looking for approval from the FDA for a nationwide release. The booster would combat the pernicious omicron strains and prevent another wintertime spike.