Moderna Sues Pfizer And BioNTech Over Covid-19 Vaccine


Moderna filed lawsuits against Pfizer and BioNTech, the company said Friday, alleging they copied Moderna’s “foundational” mRNA technology used for its Covid-19 vaccine to create their own coronavirus shots, which have brought tens of billions of dollars in sales for all three of the vaccine manufacturers.

A nurse prepares the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.

Getty Images

Key Facts

Moderna said it filed patent infringement lawsuits in U.S. District Court and in Germany, where BioNTech is headquartered, adding the company believes Pfizer and BioNTech copied Moderna’s “groundbreaking technology” critical to the development of their Covid vaccine, Comirnaty, “without Moderna’s permission.”

Moderna said it was not aiming to remove Comirnaty from the market or asking for an injunction to block future sales to “ensure continued access to these lifesaving vaccines.”

The company instead is seeking unspecified monetary damages for the period after March 8, 2022, when Moderna began to enforce its patents again after halting enforcement in October 2020 when companies raced to develop a vaccine to fight against the deadly virus (the company will not seek damages for vaccine sales in low- and middle-income countries where access to shots is limited).

Moderna filed the lawsuit to “protect the innovative mRNA technology platform it “pioneered, invested billions of dollars in creating, and patented during the decade preceding the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company’s chief executive Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.

The lawsuits come after Moderna shares have struggled this year as Covid rates have waned and demand for vaccines has fallen.

Pfizer told Forbes it has not yet fully reviewed Moderna’s complaint but said it was “surprised by the litigation” given its Covid vaccine was based on BioNTech’s mRNA technology, adding it will “vigorously defend against the allegations.”

Big Number

$51 billion. That’s how much Pfizer and Moderna said they expected to make in combined Covid vaccine sales in 2022. Pfizer predicted $32 billion in sales, while Moderna estimated $19 billion.

Key Background

Pfizer and BioNTech, two separate pharmaceutical companies, came together in 2020 to develop a coronavirus vaccine at the height of the pandemic during the race to develop shots to tackle the fatal disease. Pfizer and BioNTech were the first manufacturers to receive Food and Drug administration approval for their shots in December 2020, followed by Moderna one week later. All shots use messenger RNA technology to protect against the coronavirus. The technology works by teaching human cells how to make a spike protein—a key element of the coronavirus particle—that triggers an immune response to protect against infection. Moderna had been working on the development of mRNA vaccines since the company was created in 2010. The technology allowed all three companies to create shots in record time to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. Moderna alleged Pfizer and BioNTech should have been compensating Moderna for the companies’ Covid-19 vaccine technology outside of low- and middle-income countries, adding the “promise of mRNA science cannot be achieved without a patent system that rewards and protects innovation.”

What To Watch For

A long time before a resolution. Patent lawsuit battles can last years and often end up in federal appeals courts, according to the Washington Post.

Further Reading

Moderna accuses BioNTech/Pfizer of copying mRNA technology (Financial Times)

Moderna sues Pfizer/BioNTech for patent infringement over COVID vaccine (Reuters)

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Life Sciences, Forbes – Healthcare

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