“Blatant Opportunist” Alnylam Sues Moderna, Pfizer for Patent Infringement

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It’s a phull-on pharma phight. Lawsuits broke out Thursday over the underlying technology in two of the world’s best Covid-19 vaccines.

US biotech Alnyam sued Pfizer and Moderna in Delaware federal court, claiming the rival pharma giants pilfered its technology and demanded they relinquish a share of the massive revenues from their revolutionary treatments. Moderna didn’t mince words in its reply.

Pharma Broedown Throwdown

There’s no question that the rapid development of incredible, life-saving vaccines in the middle of the greatest pandemic in living memory will go down as a landmark achievement in human history. It was also pretty, pretty good for business. Moderna said it earned $17.1 billion from its Covid-19 vaccine last year and expects to make $19 billion from it in 2022. Pfizer expects to make an even loftier $32 billion this year from its vaccine, co-developed with Germany’s BioNTech.

But Alnylam’s version of events portray Moderna and Pfizer’s innovation as partly the product of its own creation, which the company insists entitles it to some of that massive cash pile:

  • Alnylam says both firms used a lipid nanoparticle (LNP) technology it developed, which allows the mRNA vaccines to carry and deliver genetic material to the human body. It also claims Moderna discussed licensing the technology in 2013 or 2014.
  • Moderna shot back on Thursday, saying it developed its own LNP technology because Alnylam’s was “insufficient” for arm injections. Moderna called Alnylam’s legal claims “specious” and said the company is “engaged in what can only be seen as blatant opportunism.”

A Common Symptom: Legal headaches appear to be a frequent side effect of creating a life-saving vaccine. Two small biotech firms, Arbutus Biopharma and Genevant Sciences, launched a lawsuit against Moderna in Delaware last month, also claiming its COVID-19 vaccine stole from their LNP RNA-delivery patents. They, too, want compensation.

Public Distrust: The US National Institutes of Health has also suggested it may sue Moderna for not crediting its scientists as co-inventors of its vaccine. Moderna’s jab came out of a collaboration with the NIH and the US government even originally called it the “NIH-Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.” But the company denies the agency’s scientists contributed to the invention, claiming its own experts had already identified a gene for Covid-19’s spike protein before NIH scientists e-mailed them about the technology.