CureVac sues BioNTech over mRNA patents

Pharma group seeks compensation from Covid vaccine-maker for alleged IP infringements

CureVac is suing fellow German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, alleging that the Covid-19 vaccine-maker infringed vital patents relating to messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.

The group has filed a lawsuit in a German court seeking “fair compensation” for alleged infringements of its intellectual property rights in the development of the Covid jab manufactured by BioNTech and US drugmaker Pfizer.

CureVac said it was not planning any moves that would affect the production, sale or distribution of the vaccine. The success of its Covid jab transformed BioNTech from a little-known company into a multibillion-euro biotech.

CureVac is developing its own mRNA vaccines, including a Covid jab. But the group abandoned its first attempt at one after it appeared less effective in a late-stage trial than those made by Pfizer and Moderna, although the data were not directly comparable.

Announcing its legal action, CureVac said in a statement that it considered the rapid development of the vaccines a “tremendous achievement”, with an “unprecedented positive impact for global public health”.

But “this achievement is based on decades of scientific research and innovation, supported by CureVac as the earliest pioneer in mRNA technology”, it said. “Accordingly, CureVac’s intellectual property rights need to be acknowledged and respected in the form of a fair compensation to reinvest into the further advancement of mRNA technology and the ongoing development of new classes of life-saving medicines.”

BioNTech did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit could be an opening shot in an intellectual property battle over mRNA patents as groups seek a slice of the profits made by market leaders BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna.

Before the pandemic there were no approved vaccines based on mRNA technology, which teaches the immune system to recognise a virus based on part of its genetic code. CureVac’s first Covid shot used an unmodified version of mRNA, whereas the vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna modified the mRNA.

BioNTech generated almost €19 billion last year, almost all from the Covid vaccine. While sales of the jab are expected to decline this year, the company is developing new versions of the vaccine targeted at the emerging variants for autumn booster campaigns.

Shares in BioNTech, which have declined by 26 per cent in the past year, fell 0.9 per cent in pre-market trading in New York on Tuesday. CureVac shares, which have tumbled 76 per cent in the past year, added 0.9 per cent before the market opened. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022