Pfizer, Moderna Sued by Alnylam in New Fight Over Covid Shots

March 17, 2022

Source: Bloomberg Law

Photo / Image Source: Unsplash, Prasesh Shiwakoti (Lomash)

  • Biotech company claims to have developed crucial technology

  • Legal action adds to battles over credit for vaccines’ origins

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. said it had filed lawsuits against Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., alleging that the companies had infringed its patents for their Covid-19 vaccines.

The biotechnology company claimed that lipid nanoparticle technology it developed was an important component of the vaccines, which have been given to millions of Americans and generated billions in revenue for Pfizer and Moderna. Alnylam said it is seeking damages. “The patent relates to Alnylam’s biodegradable cationic lipids that are foundational to the success of the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines,” Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Alnylam said in a release Thursday.

Alnylam uses lipid nanoparticles to deliver treatments into the body that silence malfunctioning genes, and numerous biotech companies are using them as a tool to advance genetic medicine. Pfizer and Moderna use lipid nanoparticles to protect the fragile messenger RNA that makes their Covid shots work.

Alnylam said it won’t seek an injunction or try to impede the production, sale or distribution of the vaccines. While the shots have been deployed worldwide, many people remain unvaccinated, and governments are still campaigning to expand immunization and halt future waves of infection. Legal battles among drugmakers over intellectual property aren’t unusual, and the Covid vaccines have stirred other disputes. The U.S. government has claimed it holds key patents related to the Moderna shot. Additionally, Moderna is facing a separate patent lawsuit in Delaware over its Covid-19 vaccine from Arbutus Biopharma Corp. and Genevant Sciences GmbH.

Moderna said in a statement that Alnylam’s suit was “blatant opportunism” and that its nanoparticles “do not resemble Alnylam’s work.” The company said it designed proprietary lipids after discovering years ago that the Alnylam-style lipids didn’t work for delivering mRNA directly into the arm. “Any assertion that the Alnylam patent covers Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is specious,” the company said.

Pfizer, which has invested to scale up production of its lipid nanoparticles and clinched deals with partners to bolster supply, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shares of Alnylam advanced 2.1% at 10:25 a.m. in New York on Thursday, while Pfizer gained 1.7% and Moderna declined 3.1%.

“It is our fiduciary duty to shareholders to seek fair compensation for the use of our technology,” Alnylam spokeswoman Christine Lindenboom said in a statement.

The cases are Alnylam v Pfizer, 1:99-mc-09999, U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware (Wilmington) and Alnylam v Moderna, 1:99-mc-09999, U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

--With assistance from Robert Langreth.

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