CureVac Sues BioNTech for IP Infringement

07.07.2022 - Germany’s BioNTech is pushing back against allegations by compatriot CureVac that the company infringed its intellectual property in formulating its mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, that it developed and marketed together with US drugs giant Pfizer.

CureVac said this week it had filed suit against BioNTech and two of its subsidiaries in a German regional court but would not pursue any legal action to prevent its rival from manufacturing or selling Comirnaty. The claims center around the engineering of mRNA molecules as well as mRNA formulation specific to Covid vaccines.

In a statement, the Tübingen-based biotech asserted that over 22 years it “developed proprietary foundational technology related to mRNA design, delivery and manufacturing that materially contributed to save and efficacious Covid-19 vaccines.”

While calling the rapid development and deployment of the new vaccines at the height of the coronavirus pandemic a “tremendous achievement,” CureVac said this was based on decades of scientific research and innovation it had conducted as the “earliest pioneer” in the technology.

Without putting a figure on what he might consider fair, CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas said the company believes its intellectual property rights “need to be acknowledged and respected in the form of a fair compensation to reinvest in the further advancement of mRNA technology and new classes of life-saving medicines.”

BioNTech and US biotech Moderna launched the first and second-ever Covid vaccines – both based on mRNA. When global supply shortages loomed, CureVac appeared close to having its own vaccine in production and even enlisted Bayer to help. Its initial candidate, however, disappointed in clinical trials. The biotech is now collaborating with GSK on a second-generation shot.

Ironically for Haas, who may have hoped to be the first to be vaccinated with his company’s own product, the CEO acknowledged last year that he had received a Comirnaty shot.

To defend itself against CureVac’s claims, BioNTech said it may file a countersuit. “BioNTech values and respects intellectual property rights,” the Mainz-headquartered vaccine maker added. “BioNTech’s work is original, and we will defend it.” At the same time, the company said, “it is not unusual that other pharmaceutical companies, having witnessed the success of Comirnaty, are now claiming patent infringement.”

In the recent past, both BioNTech and Moderna have faced IP infringement charges from biotechs claiming their technology had been copied. Depending on the outcome of the high-profile CureVac-BioNTech scuffle, some wager that more technology developers could in future look for a slice of the profits vaccine sales generate.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist