The Moderna vaccine against Covid-19 has become the subject of a bitter patent fight, with the National Institutes of Health insisting that three government scientists worked with the company on the genetic sequence used in the vaccine to trigger an immune response and should be named in the company’s patent application. The company, which excluded the government scientists in a July patent application, disagrees. It says that only Moderna’s scientists came up with the mRNA sequence used in the vaccine.
“The dispute is about much more than scientific accolades or ego,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Rebecca Robbins reported this week at The New York Times. They explained:
“If the three agency scientists are named on the patent along with the Moderna employees, the federal government could have more of a say in which companies manufacture the vaccine, which in turn could influence which countries get access. It would also secure a nearly unfettered right to license the technology, which could bring millions into the federal treasury.
“The fight comes amid mounting frustration in the U.S. government and elsewhere with Moderna’s limited efforts to get its vaccine to poorer countries. The company, which has not previously brought a product to market, received nearly $10 billion in taxpayer funding to develop the vaccine, test it and provide doses to the federal government. It has already lined up supply deals worth about $35 billion through the end of 2022.”
Dr. Francis Collins, the NIH director, told Reuters on Wednesday that scientists at the agency’s Vaccine Research Center played "a major role" in developing the vaccine and said that the government would defend its claim to a share of the patent. "I think Moderna has made a serious mistake here in not providing the kind of co-inventorship credit to people who played a major role in the development of the vaccine that they're now making a fair amount of money off of," Collins said.
He added that the federal collaboration with Moderna had been friendly for years, but that efforts to resolve the patent issue amicably had failed. "But we are not done,” he said. “Clearly this is something that legal authorities are going to have to figure out.”
Moderna reportedly expects sales of its Covid-19 vaccine to total $15 billion to $18 billion this year and up to $22 billion next year. “Sales of its vaccine both this year and next are likely to rank among the highest in a single year for any medical product in history,” the Times said.