Arbutus files patent infringement lawsuit against Moderna related to COVID shot

Feb 28 (Reuters) - Arbutus Biopharma Corp (ABUS.O) said on Monday it had filed a lawsuit against Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) seeking damages for infringement of U.S. patents related to Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine.

Shares of Arbutus rose 11% in early trading, while Moderna fell 2.5% on the lawsuit that comes after a federal appeals court in December rejected Moderna's challenge to Arbutus' patents.

Arbutus said it developed the so-called lipid nanoparticles (LNP) that enclose genetic materials known as messenger RNA or mRNA, the patents related to which were licensed to Genevant Sciences, a joint venture between Arbutus and Roivant Sciences Ltd (ROIV.O).

"Moderna denies these allegations, and will vigorously defend itself against Genevant's claims in Court," a Moderna spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement to Reuters.

Sales of Moderna's COVID vaccine, which is based on mRNA technology and is cleared for use in over 70 countries, have been on the rise. The vaccine garnered $17.7 billion in sales in 2021 and is expected to bring in up to $19 billion in 2022.

Roivant and Genevant said they did not seek to interfere with the sale or distribution of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, but that the litigation could take at least two years.

"It could obviously take lesser time than that especially if all the parties reach a settlement agreement," said Jefferies analyst Dennis Ding.

Ding said he expects the companies to fight it out in court which could take a couple of years, but added that a positive outcome in the form of a royalty or licensing agreement could eventually occur.

Moderna is also embroiled in a months-long patent conflict over its COVID-19 vaccine with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). read more

Moderna in December said it had decided not to pursue its U.S. patent application for the vaccine at the time to allow more time for discussions with the NIH.

Reporting by Amruta Khandekar; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli

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