Moderna and NIH locked in dispute over invention of COVID-19 vax

Nov. 12, 2021

Moderna and the National Institutes of Health are struggling to agree over who should get the credit for inventing the company’s blockbuster COVID-19 vaccine. 

Earlier this year, Moderna claimed in a patent filing that no scientists from the NIH were involved in designing the genetic sequence used in the company’s vaccine. But the NIH claims that three of its scientists did co-invent the shot. Although the government played a heavy hand in financing the development of the vaccine — shelling out $1.4 billion in R&D and $8.1 billion in supply deals — Moderna says that its scientists worked separately and in parallel to the NIH researchers involved in the project.

With the two entities at odds, billion-dollar questions are hovering over the patent. If Moderna succeeds in excluding NIH scientists, it could more easily retain control over the patent and exclusively manufacture the vaccine for years. But with NIH scientists listed as co-inventors, the government could potentially license the technology out to other companies or maybe even benefit financially from being on the patent.

Moderna’s vaccine is expected to rake in about $18 billion in revenue this year, and has already scored $20 billion in contracts for next year. It is the only product that Moderna has ever successfully brought to market.