COVID-19 patent challenges mount as Moderna faces new vaccine lawsuit

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A vial and sryinge are seen in front of a displayed Moderna logo in this illustration taken January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

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  • Biotech companies ask for royalties on shots, treatments
  • Moderna, Pfizer, Regeneron have faced claims

(Reuters) - A lawsuit filed Monday by Arbutus Biopharma Corp against Moderna Inc is the latest in a small but growing list of high-stakes patent disputes over COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Arbutus and its partner Genevant Sciences GmbH told a Delaware federal court that Moderna misused its technology for delivering mRNA, which it said allowed Moderna to develop its COVID-19 vaccine at "record speed."

The case is not the first patent dispute over COVID-19 breakthroughs, or even the first between Arbutus and Moderna. A U.S. appeals court in December rejected Moderna's challenge to a tribunal's decision that upheld parts of two of the patents at issue in the new lawsuit.

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Arbutus' Monday complaint asked for royalties and other money damages. Moderna's vaccine earned $17.7 billion in sales in 2021 and is expected to bring in up to $19 billion in 2022.

Moderna could also face a challenge from the U.S. government over its vaccines. Francis Collins, who at the time led the U.S. National Institutes of Health, told Reuters in November that its scientists played a "major role" in developing Moderna's shot and should be listed as inventors on a key patent application.

Collins said in November that the dispute is "something that legal authorities are going to have to figure out."

Moderna's rival Pfizer Inc has also faced patent claims over its shot.

San Diego biotech company Allele Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals Inc sued Pfizer and partner BioNTech SE in 2020, arguing they used its patented fluorescent protein without permission in developing their vaccine.

Allele had asked for royalties and other infringement damages. New York-based Pfizer said in November that it expected sales of its COVID-19 vaccine to reach $36 billion in 2021, and estimated another $29 billion for 2022.

The parties settled earlier this year.

An Allele lawsuit against Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc over its alleged use of the same protein to test its COVID-19 antibody treatment is still ongoing. A Manhattan federal court is set to hear arguments on Regeneron's bid to dismiss the case Wednesday.

Regeneron said earlier this month that it sold more than $6 billion worth of its treatment in 2021.

The case is Arbutus Biopharma Corp v. Moderna Inc, U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, No. 1:22-cv-00252.

For Arbutus: David Berl of Williams & Connolly; Daralyn Durie of Durie Tangri; and John Shaw of Shaw Keller

For Moderna: NA

Read more:

Arbutus files patent infringement lawsuit against Moderna related to COVID shot

Regeneron, Pfizer sued for patent infringement over COVID antibody cocktail, vaccine

Pfizer, biotech firm end patent fight over COVID-19 vaccine

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine patent dispute headed to court, U.S. NIH head says

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at