GSK sues Pfizer and BioNTech over Covid-19 vaccine technology

UK pharmaceutical firm enters the fray in the battle over mRNA technology used to develop blockbuster vaccines

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has sued Pfizer and German partner BioNTech for patent infringement in a Delaware district court - the latest lawsuit filed  in the so-called “Covid wars” regarding the technology used to create mRNA vaccines during the Covid 19 pandemic.

GSK alleges that its five patents were infringed by four of the defendants’ products, which were all variations of the Comirnaty Covid-19 vaccine, one of the blockbuster vaccines used during the pandemic.

In the suit filed on 25 April, GSK contends its patented inventions laid the foundation for the defendants’ technical and financial success with Covid-19 vaccines, invented more that a decade before the Covid-19 pandemic.

It believes the defendants “repeatedly touted the speed at which they produced their original Covid-19 vaccine and were later able to modify it to address new viral strains", but consistently failed to acknowledge how they applied previous work by a team led by vaccinologist Christian Mandl (the “Mandl team”) who focused on developing mRNA vaccines. One of the major advances of the Mandl team over preexisting vaccine technologies was the speed with which a new vaccine candidate could be made and tested, says GSK.

GSK also points out in its court filings that in 2008, Andrew Geall, a formulation scientist and the named inventor of the patents-in-suit, joined the Mandl team. It argues that the defendants were aware of the Mandl team’s innovations “long before they ever developed and commercialised the accused products”.

It continues that Pfizer and BioNTech “have reaped billions of dollars in revenue from infringing GSK’s patents-in-suit and continue to benefit, without ever obtaining a license.”

In response to the lawsuit, a Pfizer spokesperson said: “We are confident in our IP position around Comirnaty and intend to vigorously defend against these claims."

One of the defendants, Pfizer, reported more than $8bn in US revenue (and over $37bn globally) in 2022 and over $2bn in US revenue (and over $11bn globally) in 2023.

GSK is the owner of all the asserted patents in this litigation because at the time the Mandl team began working on mRNA vaccines, they were employed by Novartis. In 2015, however, GSK acquired a substantial portion of Novartis’ global vaccines business including the Mandl team’s inventions.

GSK is seeking damages for the patent infringement and that damages should be determined by a jury.

Other lawsuits surrounding Covid-19 vaccine technology

This is the latest lawsuit surrounding the blockbuster Covid vaccines. In 2022, Moderna sued Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in the US claiming their vaccine technology infringed its patents. This month the case was put on hold while the US Patent and Trademark Office investigated whether two of the three Moderna patents were valid.

The legal battle between the three companies has also reached the shores of the UK, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the European Patent Office. Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna are currently embroiled in a weeks-long trial at the High Court in London. 

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