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As rivals eye ‘unjustified royalties,’ Pfizer partner sues to defend COVID-19 shot Comirnaty

Pfizer has already reeled in tens of billions of dollars in sales for its COVID-19 shot Comirnaty. Now, one of the New York pharma’s partners says rival companies are eyeing “hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in unjustified royalties” through a potential patent lawsuit.

In a bid to get out ahead of that potential suit, Acuitas Therapeutics, Pfizer’s partner on vaccine delivery tech, has sued Arbutus and Genevant Sciences alleging they “had nothing to do” with the success of Comirnaty.

Acuitas and its founders worked on lipid nanoparticle delivery tech used in the mRNA vaccine for “decades,” Acuitas said in the suit. But “only after Comirnaty achieved worldwide commercial success did Arbutus and Genevant emerge to make the spurious claim” that the vaccine may infringe Arbutus’ patents, Acuitas added.

Arbutus and Genevant appear to be seeking “hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in wholly unjustified payments” through their legal strategy, Acuitas says. Importantly, the companies have not yet sued Pfizer for alleged infringement. An Arbutus representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Acuitas is seeking court judgments stating that Comirnaty does not infringe any Arbutus patents and that certain Arbutus patents are invalid.

It’s the latest in a series of lawsuits relating to the lucrative COVID-19 vaccines. Already, Arbutus and Genevant have sued Moderna, and Alnylam has sued both Pfizer and Moderna in separate lawsuits.

In the Moderna lawsuit, Arbutus and Genevant are seeking damages for alleged infringement on six patents. Prior to that lawsuit, Moderna lost a bid to invalidate the Arbutus patents.

For its part, Alnylam claims it invented the lipid nanoparticle delivery tech used by both leading COVID-19 shots more than a decade ago. Alnylam isn’t seeking to halt production, but it is seeking damages for the “defendants’ wrongful acts in an amount to be determined at trial.”

While the patent cases will certainly feature more twists and turns, a lot of money is on the line. Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine reeled in $36.7 billion last year, while Moderna pulled down $17.7 billion. For 2022, Pfizer expects $32 billion in global COVID-19 vaccine sales, while Moderna projects its shot can generate $22 billion.