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Moderna sues Pfizer over COVID-19 vaccine patents

A single-use syringe awaits to be filled with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna has sued rival drugmakers for patent infringement.
Rogelio V. Solis
/
AP
A single-use syringe awaits to be filled with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna has sued rival drugmakers for patent infringement.

Updated August 26, 2022 at 11:24 AM ET

Vaccine maker Moderna announced Friday that it's suing rival drugmakers Pfizer and BioNtech for patent infringement. The lawsuit alleges the two companies used certain key features of technology Moderna developed to make their COVID-19 vaccine. It argues that Pfizer and BioNtech's vaccine infringes patents Moderna filed between 2010 and 2016 for its messenger RNA or mRNA technology.

All three companies' COVID-19 vaccines used mRNA technology which is a new way to make vaccines. In the past, vaccines were generally made using parts of a virus, or inactivated virus, to stimulate an immune response. With mRNA technology, the vaccine uses messenger RNA created in a lab to send genetic instructions that teach our cells to make a protein or part of a protein that triggers an immune response.

In October 2020, Moderna pledged not to enforce its COVID-19 related patents while the pandemic was ongoing, according to a statement from the company. In March this year, it said it will stick to its commitment not to enforce its COVID-19 related patents in low and middle-income countries, but expects rival companies like Pfizer to respect its intellectual property.

Moderna is not seeking to remove the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine from the market, but is seeking monetary damages.

Moderna is filing the lawsuits against Pfizer and BioNTech in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts and the Regional Court of Düsseldorf in Germany.

A Pfizer spokesperson said in a statement the company has not yet fully reviewed the complaint but it is "confident in our intellectual property supporting the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and will vigorously defend against the allegations of the lawsuit."

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Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors. Palca is also the founder of NPR Scicommers – A science communication collective.