Dispute over covid vaccine technology ends in court
Jit companies behind two of the most used covid-19 vaccines in America are at loggerheads. Despite publicly promising not to enforce patents related to covid-19 until the end of the pandemic, Moderna, an American drugmaker, filed a lawsuit on August 26 against Pfizer, another American company, and BioNTech, its German partner, in US and German courts. The dispute is over elements of the messenger rna (mrna) technology used by firms to make their jabs. CureVac, another German pharmaceutical company, also filed a lawsuit against BioNTech in July. The floodgates have opened for intellectual property wrangling between vaccine makers.
Covid-19 bites will soon be marketed in America when the government ceases to be the primary buyer and sales shift to the private sector, making claims over patent ownership more pressing. Despite the whispers about patent infringement that have been circulating since the start of the pandemic, the jab-makers had pushed back against the lawsuits, concerned about their public image during a health crisis. The potential losses now outweigh the reputational risks. Last year, Moderna’s revenue from its vaccine hit $18 billion, while Pfizer raked in more than double that.
Moderna claims that Pfizer and BioNTech copied a patented chemical modification that prevents disruptive immune reactions, as well as the lipid shells used to obtain the mrna to the cells, in their sting. BioNTech asserts that its work is original and that it will vigorously defend itself against all allegations of patent infringement. The case is likely to be long and complex. mrna It has been decades since covid vaccines based on this technology have been able to be developed so quickly only thanks to the fundamental work of many scientists. This collaborative approach makes it impossible to identify a single inventor.
Adding a further complication, other scientists claim the modification in question. Moderna is being sued by Arbutus, a Canadian pharmaceutical company, for its lipid shells. Alongside CureVac, smaller biotech companies, including Allele and Alnylam, both American, are suing Moderna and Pfizer over other parts of its vaccine technology. There are bound to be more trials to come.
Moderna went to court because it has the most to lose. The future of the company rests on drugs based on mrna technology that could one day be used to treat diseases like cancers and HIV. But that’s being cautious. He did not seek an injunction, so regardless of the outcome, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will remain on sale. The case, however, could set a precedent for how much of this type of collaboratively developed technology is patentable.
Investors seem unfazed. Shares of Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech have barely moved since the lawsuit was announced. Vaccine demand is slowing and investors recognize that lengthy patent litigation is commonplace in the pharmaceutical industry. Around the world, people are starting to come into the office in droves. For a notoriously contentious industry, it’s also a return to the status quo.■
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