on Friday launched a battle for control of the future of messenger RNA technology, announcing that it was suing its competitors
in the U.S. and Germany for patent infringement.
In a lawsuit it said it was filing on Friday in federal court in Massachusetts,
is claiming that its competitors’ Covid-19 vaccine, which holds a dominant share of the U.S. Covid-19 vaccine market, infringes on patents held by Moderna (ticker: MRNA).
The patents relate to two aspects of Moderna’s approach to mRNA medicines, one relating to a chemical modification made to the mRNA itself, and another to the concept behind the vaccine.
Moderna’s patent claims appear to be foundational to the mRNA technology itself, and look to be an effort to assert broad rights over the future not just of the Covid-19 vaccines, but of mRNA-based medicines in general.
The courts will take years to come to a final decision on the validity of Moderna’s case. In the meantime, the litigation could throw some uncertainty over the field of mRNA-based medicines, into which a range of big pharma firms have thrown themselves since the pandemic proved the technology’s value.
Moderna said it is seeking monetary damages from
(BNTX), and not looking to have the Pfizer vaccine removed from the market. It also said that it only seeking damages for sales of the vaccine since March of this year, and won’t seek damages for sales of the vaccine in low-income countries.
Pfizer said early Friday that it had not yet been served with the lawsuit, and was unable to comment. BioNTech did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The new Moderna lawsuits are the latest, and highest-profile, in a growing number of patent claims around the mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines. While academic scientists and, later, companies like Moderna and BioNTech, had been working on mRNA vaccines and therapeutics for years before the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, the technology had not yet been commercialized.
Moderna itself already faces a patent lawsuit from
(ABUS) over the design of the lipid nanoparticle that wrap the mRNA in Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, while an mRNA-focused biotech called
(CVAC) has sued BioNTech in Germany over alleged patent infringements related to other aspects of the mRNA technology. In response, Pfizer and BioNTech have sued CureVac in federal court in the U.S.
The lawsuits will take years to move through the legal system. A district-court ruling alone could take more than two years, and any decision would likely be appealed by whichever party loses.
A victory by Moderna would secure for the company a dominant position in the long-term market for mRNA-based vaccines and therapeutics. One of the claims Moderna makes in its lawsuit appears to relate to a modification made to the mRNA used in the vaccine involving the substitution of a nucleotide called uridine with an artificial component called pseudouridine. While both Moderna and Pfizer took this approach with their Covid-19 vaccines, CureVac did not; its vaccine was unsuccessful in clinical trials.
This is a developing story.
Write to Josh Nathan-Kazis at [email protected]