Just over a year ago, following the successful results of its phase 3 trials, the US National Institute of Health (NIH) was calling it “the NIH-Moderna vaccine.” Then, last November, Moderna filed a patent application claiming its scientists were the vaccine’s sole inventors.
The vaccine patent has since been withdrawn, pending ongoing legal discussions between Moderna and the NIH. The outcome will be a major factor in global vaccination and ending or at least slowing the cycle of new coronavirus mutations.
Before the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the NIH and Moderna had been working for over two years on vaccines against coronaviruses. The NIH maintains that its vaccine scientists “created stabilized coronavirus spike proteins for the development of vaccines against coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2.
“Recognizing the importance of these novel immunogens, [the NIH] has sought patents to preserve the government’s rights to these inventions.”
Moderna acknowledges that the NIH scientists sent it the genetic sequence for the coronavirus spike protein. However, it maintains that its own scientists identified it independently.
“We had two teams working in parallel, to increase the chances,” Moderna CEO’s said. Anthony Fauci of the NIH replied, the “vaccine was actually developed in my institute’s vaccine research center.”
The outcome of the dispute has implications for more than just Moderna’s share price. The NIH and the US government will be much more forthcoming than Moderna with licensing out rights to manufacture the vaccine.
The Biden administration supports a World Trade Organization resolution, proposed by India and China, to waive patent rights on COVID vaccines (the EU, UK and Switzerland oppose). Biden has pushed the case since early 2021 and continued to do so after the emergence of omicron.
“The news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations,” Biden said. The decision has been called “monumental” by the WHO.
Meannwhile, Moderna and Pfizer are happily promoting a fourth shot of their COVID vaccines for citizens of wealthy countries in 2022. Between the two companies, 2022 vaccine sales are expected to top US$50 billion.
Follow Christian on Twitter for more news updates.