After months of relentless pressure by the US government and civil society organizations, including AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Moderna has been compelled to put on hold its dispute with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over who owns the patents to its highly effective mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. A development which might pave the way for licensing of Moderna’s vaccine to other manufacturers, according to AHF.
“This is a significant defeat for Moderna and it’s not a coincidence the news was released on Friday, too late for the stock market to react – the company knows its vaccine monopoly might be coming to an end very soon,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “The NIH contributed research and billions of taxpayers’ dollars which propelled Moderna from a startup to a company on track to make $20 billion in sales this year. Despite all this, Moderna has flat out refused to engage in substantive talks with the US government about sharing of its technology with the rest of the world, while millions of people are dying. The tide is turning for Moderna’s pandemic profiteering, and compulsory technology transfers are not out of the realm of possibility if it remains uncooperative.”
According to The Washington Post, Moderna disputed that NIH scientists contributed key pieces of mRNA technology that went into creating a vaccine which remains one of the most effective shots for preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19. The move by Moderna to drop the dispute over the patents does not in itself guarantee that the blueprint for making the vaccine will become widely available, but it does offer the US government substantial leverage in persuading the company to license the technology to other vaccine manufacturers in an effort to expand global vaccine access.
The need to expand vaccine production is particularly important for low-income countries, where only 7.6% of people have received at least one dose. Africa remains a glaring gap in the global effort to vaccinate our world – on a continent with 1.4 billion people only 8.4% of the population are fully vaccinated, in large part due to vaccine hoarding of limited supplies by wealthy countries. Technology transfers and patent waivers would allow more generic vaccine manufacturers to enter the market, increasing the supply of vaccines and driving down prices. As long as the world remains a patchwork of vaccinated and unvaccinated regions, we will be forced to live with the danger of new variants emerging as the pandemic drags on.