Moderna is suing Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech for patent infringement in the development of the first COVID-19 vaccine approved in the United States, alleging they copied technology that Moderna developed years before the pandemic.
The lawsuit, which seeks undetermined monetary damages, was being filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts and the Regional Court of Dusseldorf in Germany, Moderna said in a news release on Friday, Reuters said.
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.
Just a decade old, Moderna, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had been an innovator in the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology that enabled 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.
Germany-based BioNTech had also been working in this field when it partnered with the U.S. pharma giant Pfizer.
The U.S. 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 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.
In Friday’s statement, Moderna said Pfizer/BioNTech appropriated two types of intellectual property.
One involved an mRNA structure that Moderna says its scientists began developing in 2010 and were the first to validate in human trials in 2015.
“Pfizer and BioNTech took four different vaccine candidates into clinical testing, which included options that would have steered clear of Moderna’s innovative path. Pfizer and BioNTech, however, ultimately decided to proceed with a vaccine that has the same exact mRNA chemical modification to its vaccine,” Moderna said in its statement.
The second alleged infringement involves the coding of a full-length spike protein that Moderna says its scientists developed while creating a vaccine for the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
Although the MERS vaccine never went to market, its development helped Moderna rapidly roll out its COVID-19 vaccine.