Disagreements between Moderna and the US government deepened on Thursday after the biotechnology group rejected the National Institutes of Health’s claim that its three scientists should be recognized as co-inventors supporting the company’s Covid-19 vaccine patent.
Compared with any other vaccine manufacturer, Moderna has worked closely with the US government to develop its vaccines, received approximately $2.5 billion in grants and orders, and also cooperated with clinical trials.
But now, the couple are arguing fiercely about a patent related to the genetic sequence of a vaccine: The National Institutes of Health claims its scientists are co-inventors, and Moderna insists they are not.
Disagreements have been brewing for more than a year, and NIH has no knowledge of Moderna’s decision to file a patent in July, which is not attributed to its scientists Kizzmekia Corbett, Barney Graham and John Mascola.
On Thursday, Moderna issued a public statement insisting that it “disagreed” that the three “co-invented a statement on the mRNA (modified nucleotide) sequence of our Covid-19 vaccine”, thereby exacerbating the controversy.
The company also lashed out against critics of its method, accusing them of trying to “distort Moderna’s good faith application of the US patent law,” a move that may intensify the debate over vaccines that protect intellectual property rights, which are being produced for decades. Sales reached billions of dollars.
Moderna’s intervention came after Francis Collins, the outgoing director of NIH, told Reuters this week that the agency intends to defend its claims and said that if the two cannot resolve the issue, the court will make a decision.
“I think Moderna made a serious mistake here by not providing credit for this co-invention to people who played an important role in vaccine development, and they are now making a lot of money from it,” he said. .
Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy agency, said that being recognized as a co-inventor of vaccines can help the US government influence how vaccines are used and help ensure access to vaccines in low- and middle-income countries. The Biden administration recently urged Moderna to take more measures to increase supply to developing countries.
This dispute represents a rare breakdown in the relationship between Moderna and the US government, which has supported the company shortly after its establishment in 2011.
By the time the outbreak was declared a pandemic, the two had already collaborated on the Covid-19 vaccine and also collaborated on other projects, such as a vaccine for Nipah virus, which some scientists have identified as a potential source of a future pandemic.
The company said on Thursday that it has proposed to resolve patent disputes with NIH by making the government the co-owner of patent applications that only list Moderna scientists as inventors.
Moderna said this would allow the government to license patents as it sees fit.
But the company insists that only its scientists can be listed as inventors of patent applications because they specifically select the genetic sequences used in vaccines without the input of government scientists.
Stephen Hoge, President of Moderna, told the Financial Times that there was “no fundamental disagreement” with NIH because they provided joint ownership of the patent.
“I think that our position and from the legal point of view of selecting inventors of what you can and cannot do, some serious mischaracterizations have occurred,” he said.
Moderna lists these three scientists as co-inventors in a separate, less important patent application. But officials worry that if the inventor of the NIH is omitted from the main application, the government may be deprived of joint ownership rights in the final application and patent.