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Moderna Sues Pfizer Over mRNA Technology Used in COVID Vaccines

Moderna is suing Pfizer and BioNTech over patents it said it filed years ago on the life-saving technology.

An illustration of mRNA
libre de droit/Getty Images

Moderna said Friday that it's suing Pfizer and BioNTech, alleging that the companies copied its mRNA technology, the revolutionary vaccination method used in Pfizer's and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines. 

Between 2010 and 2016, Moderna said it filed patents that covered "foundational mRNA technology" that Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, copied without permission in order to make their COVID-19 vaccine. 

"We are filing these lawsuits to protect the innovative mRNA technology platform that we pioneered, invested billions of dollars in creating, and patented during the decade preceding the COVID-19 pandemic," Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Bancel said in a press release. "This foundational platform, which we began building in 2010, along with our patented work on coronaviruses in 2015 and 2016, enabled us to produce a safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccine in record time after the pandemic struck."

In a statement to CNET, Pfizer said that the company and BioNTech haven't fully reviewed the complaint yet, but that they're "surprised" by the litigation, given that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was "based on BioNTech's proprietary mRNA technology and developed by both BioNTech and Pfizer." 

"We remain confident in our intellectual property supporting the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and will vigorously defend against the allegations of the lawsuit," Pfizer said. 

Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech have been neck and neck in the race for regulatory approval in the US. The US Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use one week before Moderna's in December 2020. This week, Moderna submitted its application to the FDA for its new COVID-19 booster that targets omicron's BA.5 subvariant one day after Pfizer and BioNTech announced their submission. 

The mRNA vaccines work by teaching our cells how to create an immune response to a virus. Moderna said in its announcement that Pfizer and BioNTech copied two key features of mRNA technology, including chemical modification and encoding for the spike protein, which Moderna said it began working on in 2010. 

Moderna said it's not asking Pfizer and BioNTech to take its vaccine off the market anywhere or prevent its future sale, but that it expects the companies to "compensate Moderna" for ongoing use of the vaccine outside of lower- or middle-income countries where vaccine supply is no longer an issue. Moderna said it's not seeking damages from the other vaccine companies in 92 lower- or middle-income countries, and that it's also not seeking damages for Pfizer's sales where the US government would be responsible for the damages, or for activities prior to March 8, 2022. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.