Moderna Inc. said it wouldn’t enforce its patents related to Covid-19 vaccines during the pandemic, in an effort to not deter other companies and researchers from making similar shots.
“While the pandemic continues, Moderna will not enforce our Covid-19 related patents against those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic,” the company said in a statement on Thursday.
One of the front-runners in developing a Covid-19 vaccine, Moderna decided to make the declaration because investors had started noticing that the company has patents that might apply to other coronavirus vaccines, said Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, in an interview.
The move is a somewhat unusual one in an industry that’s known for zealously guarding its intellectual property. Holding a drug patent usually assures a company an extended period of exclusivity, and the profits that can come with having a market to itself. Health-policy experts have expressed worry that patents could limit development of vaccines or treatment for the novel coronavirus, or limit their widespread distribution.
Moderna’s actions are “very good, and should be matched by every manufacturer of a therapeutic, vaccine or diagnostic test,” James Love, director of the consumer group Knowledge Ecology International, said in a statement. The group, which has been critical of Moderna’s patents, said the company also should participate in pools established by the World Health Organization and United Nations that provide access to patents and technology.
Numerous researchers and companies, including giants like Pfizer Inc., are pursuing vaccines based on messenger RNA, the technology for which Moderna has become well-known. Moderna said it is open to licensing its patents for use in Covid-19 vaccines after the pandemic ends.
“We do not believe it is consistent with our values to enforce those patents” during the pandemic, Hoge said. “We’re just saying you don’t have anything to worry about.”
Hoge said the announcement was unrelated to reports that it failed to disclose to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that it received government funding for research that led to some of its patents. The Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is investigating the claims, according to a letter the agency sent to KEI.
Darpa’s funding accounts for a very small part of Moderna’s overall financial backing, Hoge said.
“We always tried to make sure that we identified them not just on patent filings but more broadly,” Hoge said. “The statement that we haven’t done it as a blanket statement is factually not true.”
If the government is found to have ownership rights to some of Moderna’s patents, it could license them to other companies without Moderna’s approval, though the U.S. government has never taken that action in the past.
Moderna also said it would receive up to $56 million in new funding from Darpa to develop portable manufacturing units that could produce mRNA vaccines and drugs in 6-foot (1.8 meters) by 6-foot by 6-foot containers that could be deployed anywhere in the world.
Also on Thursday, Moderna said it had regained all rights to the respiratory syncytial virus vaccine the company had been testing in collaboration with Merck & Co. Merck decided to focus its RSV work on antibody treatments instead, Moderna said. The companies will continue to collaborate on cancer vaccines.