Moderna lawsuits could leave taxpayers on the hook after company made billions

Lawsuits against Moderna focus on patents, intellectual property rights related to its coronavirus vaccine

Moderna’s lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine was produced with unprecedented speed, but the pharmaceutical firm now faces multiple lawsuits which could leave taxpayers paying the tab. 

The lawsuits have focused on intellectual property rights and patents. In particular, a lawsuit from two biotech firms argued that the lipid technology used to develop the vaccine was the exact nature that biotech firm Arbutus had already developed. In response to another suit, Moderna disputed that three National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists played a role in developing the messenger ribonucleic acid (MRNA). 

A federal loophole could get Moderna off the hook, and force taxpayers to foot the bill.

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A vial of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine at a clinical trial. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, File / Getty Images)

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"The statute basically allows the government to violate somebody's patent, provided that the person who's gotten violated can then sue the government in a specialized court called Court of Federal Claims. It's a slightly different procedure than traditional courts," University of Baltimore law professor Greg Dolin told Fox News in an interview.

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"Congress created the special court and said… we the United States agreed to be sued, provided that a bunch of these suits go not to the regular district court, but they go to this specialized federal court. So, the default position, and going back to English common law, is that you cannot sue the king. You cannot sue the government unless there's consent," Dolin said. "If you win, if you win on appeal, then yes, you get a check from the U.S. Treasury." 

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That may surprise many American taxpayers. Moderna had $17.7 billion in revenue from vaccine sales in 2021 and predicted it would bring in at least $19 billion in 2022.

"Not only has it got this public-private partnership issue that's still hovering in the background with the NIH, it's also got all this, this private litigation that's going on, which could impact how it develops its future technologies in terms of other products outside of COVID," Tahir Amin, a co-executive director of I-MAK (Initiative for Medicines, Access and Knowledge) told Fox News in an interview.

The lawsuits against Moderna have focused on patents and intellectual property rights. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File / Associated Press)

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"There was a significant amount of funding, as I said, to some $2.5 billion that the government gave to Moderna to kind of help them push the research and development along. Some of that research and some of the technology that goes into the vaccine was actually developed by, like I said, at the NIH. But when it comes to the actual issues of intellectual property and who owns it and Moderna being able to essentially take all the profit from despite all the public research, I think the liability… lies with the donor at this point… in all these various litigation suits," Amin told Fox News.

Moderna did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment.