U.S. biotechnology firm Moderna Inc. said Friday it is filing patent infringement lawsuits over a COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE, alleging a key technology was copied.
"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 CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement.
The Massachusetts-based company was relatively unknown prior to the acceleration of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, but gained recognition worldwide for its vaccine using the new technology known as messenger RNA.
Citing the need to ensure continued access to the lifesaving vaccines, Moderna said it is not seeking to remove Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine from the market and is not asking for an injunction to prevent its future sale.
The lawsuits are being filed in courts in the United States and Germany.
According to Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech allegedly copied without permission two key features of Moderna's patented technology, which are "critical to the success of mRNA vaccines."
"When COVID-19 emerged, neither Pfizer nor BioNTech had Moderna's level of experience with developing mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases, and they knowingly followed Moderna's lead in developing their own vaccine," the company said.
While traditional vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into human bodies to trigger an immune response, mRNA vaccines give instructions for cells to make a harmless "spike protein" that resembles one found in the novel coronavirus.
The immune system then detects the protein and starts building an immune response, making antibodies to protect against future infection.