COVID-19 patent fights continue as Arbutus, Genevant come after Pfizer and BioNTech in new lawsuit

As the public health emergency around COVID-19 creeps closer to an end, drugmakers have only begun to duke it out in court over patent rights to the billion-dollar vaccines.

Arbutus Biopharma and Roivant Sciences’ Genevant Sciences, after trying their hand at suing Moderna, have now gone after Pfizer with a lawsuit. The duo alleges patent infringement of its lipid nanoparticle (LNP) delivery technologies that the duo claims are used in Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty.

Arbutus and Genevant allege that Pfizer couldn’t have created and manufactured the vaccine without their LNP technologies but never paid up and continue to “knowingly use” the tech to sell the vaccine and rake in billions, the companies' attornies allege in the suit (PDF).

The two claim that Pfizer knew of their patents in November 2020, if not before, as notice of possible infringement was delivered to Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla in a letter that invited the company to discuss licensing opportunities. Since that 2020 letter, Genevant has reached out many times to inform Pfizer it was stepping on its toes, once receiving a response that the big pharma would “reach out in due course,” which it never did.

Arbutus and Genevant allege that BioNTech knew even earlier in the summer of 2018 when it entered into a separate licensing agreement with Genevant.

The companies are asking for a judgment declaring that Pfizer and BioNTech infringed on their patents, plus an “award of damages sufficient to compensate” Arbutus and Genevant “in the form of a reasonable royalty on all infringing sales.”

Arbutus and Genevant sued Moderna last year after the company lost a legal bid to invalidate two of Arbutus’ patents that were tied to its COVID-19 vaccine, Spikevax. At the time, Genevant’s president and CEO, Pete Lutwyche, said on a conference call with investors that the Moderna litigation could take “at least two years.”

The suit comes as the two big dogs, Pfizer and Moderna, are turning on each other in court. Last summer, Moderna filed patent infringement suits against Pfizer, claiming it stepped on its mRNA patents filed between 2010 and 2016. Pfizer clapped back a few months later with a countersuit, alleging that Moderna is trying to rewrite the COVID-19 story to put itself in a “single, starring role” and is stretching its “already overboard” patents.