The mRNA gold rush

“GlaxoSmithKline, Moderna, BioNTech, and CureVac together own almost half of all patent applications for mRNA treatments.”

November 2020 will go down as a milestone month in the fight against COVID-19. News of three successful vaccines provided some respite from the endless gloom and misery the pandemic has forced upon us.

These vaccines could be life-saving for potentially millions of people—and life-changing for the rest.

Those with shares in mRNA-based vaccine developers will have reason to celebrate, after we learned that partners BioNTech and Pfizer—and then a few days later, Moderna—had developed vaccines offering more than 90% protection against SARS-CoV-2 using mRNA treatments.

The vaccine produced by a tie-up between Oxford University and AstraZeneca also reported a 90%-plus success rate (when using two doses), but it uses a different system based on the common cold virus (adenovirus) in order to trigger an immune response.

Of the 110 or so patent families claiming processes and treatments involving mRNA, GlaxoSmithKline, Moderna, BioNTech, and CureVac together own almost half of all patent applications for mRNA treatments, according to German IP firm Meyer-Dulheuer MD Legal Patentanwälte.

Moderna—which has been developing mRNA treatments for years—issued a statement in October promising not to enforce its COVID-19-related patents “against those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic” and to license its tech “for the post-pandemic period”.

With hundreds of millions of Moderna doses already secured by countries around the world, coupled with Moderna’s ‘open-licence’ pledge, the value of its IP looks set to rocket. This is likely also to prompt a surge in investment into mRNA research more widely, marking 2020 as the year this previously niche therapy hit the mainstream.

Tom Phillips is the editor of LSIPR

Image: shutterstock.com / LookerStudio

Autumn 2020

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