Moderna said on Friday it was suing rival vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech, alleging the partners infringed on its patents in developing a Covid-19 vaccine that has been administered to hundreds of millions around the world.

The lawsuits have created a high-stakes showdown between the leading makers of Covid-19 vaccines, which are a key tool in the fight against the disease.

“Moderna believes that Pfizer and BioNTech’s Comirnaty Covid-19 vaccine infringes patents registered by Moderna between 2010 and 2016 covering Moderna’s underlying mRNA technology,” the US biotech company said in a statement.

“Pfizer and BioNTech copied this technology without Moderna’s permission to manufacture Comirnaty,” Moderna said.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they had not fully reviewed the complaint, but expressed surprise at the litigation.

“The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine was based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology,” the statement said. “We will vigorously defend ourselves against the allegations in the lawsuit.”

The mRNA technology used in Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s shots differs from traditional vaccines, which rely on injecting weakened or dead forms of the virus so the immune system can recognize it and create antibodies.

Instead, mRNA vaccines deliver instructions to cells to build a harmless piece of the spike protein found on the surface of the virus that causes Covid-19.

Once this spike protein is created, cells can recognize the real virus and fight it, which is considered an important advance in vaccine development.

The shots have repeatedly been the subject of inaccurate claims that they are dangerous, but health authorities say they are both safe and effective.

The lawsuits — in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts and in a regional court in Düsseldorf, Germany — do not seek the removal of the competing vaccine or a ban on future sales.

Moderna said it began developing the technology in 2010 and patented the coronavirus work in 2015 and 2016, allowing it to launch in “record time” after the pandemic began.

Since 2020, the virus has killed at least 6.48 million people worldwide and sickened nearly 600 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

In addition to death and suffering, the disease has reshaped lives, from changing work-from-home norms to disrupting supply chains and the workforce.

Moderna said it had pledged in October 2020 not to enforce its Covid-19-related patents while the pandemic continued, but reversed that position less than two years later as the battle changed.

“Moderna expects companies such as Pfizer and BioNTech to respect its intellectual property rights and consider a commercially reasonable license if they request one for other markets,” it said.

“Pfizer and BioNTech failed to do so,” the firm added.

Such lawsuits are not unheard of in the pharmaceutical industry, where patents can cost billions of dollars and take years to litigate.

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