Canadian Pfizer partner sues to head off patent lawsuit over COVID-19 vaccine

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March 18 (Reuters) - The biotech company that makes mRNA-delivery technology for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine sued Arbutus Biopharma Corp (ABUS.O) in Manhattan federal court on Friday, seeking to head off claims that the vaccine infringes Arbutus' patents.

Canada-based Acuitas Therapeutics Inc said Arbutus and partner Genevant Sciences have threatened to sue for potentially billions of dollars in "unjustified royalties" over the vaccine Pfizer developed with Germany's BioNTech SE .

Acuitas asked the court to find that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine does not infringe Arbutus patents and that several Arbutus patents are invalid.

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A representative for Arbutus did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Acuitas' claims.

Acuitas Chief Executive Thomas Madden said in a statement that the company remains confident in its technology but otherwise declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is part of a growing web of patent disputes over COVID-19 vaccine technology. Arbutus sued Moderna (MRNA.O) over its mRNA technology last month, but has not yet sued Pfizer or Acuitas.

Pfizer and Moderna were hit with patent lawsuits on Thursday by Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc (ALNY.O), which argued its own lipid nanoparticle mRNA-delivery technology was "essential" to both of the widely used COVID-19 vaccines. read more

Pfizer said last month that it expected $32 billion in revenue from its vaccine this year. Moderna has said its vaccine earned the company $17.7 billion in revenue in 2021.

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Reporting by Blake Brittain in Washington, D.C.; Editing by David Bario and Bill Berkrot

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com