Moderna stock sinks after losing Covid patent battle

Company CEO calls for new vaccines to combat Omicron

The Moderna logo with a needle in front of it.                                 
The ruling could leave the door open for demands for Covid vaccine royalty payments from Moderna – Photo:Shutterstock

Moderna stock sank on Wednesday after a US Federal Court of Appeals upheld a ruling concerning the patent of a drug-delivery technology, making its Covid-19 vaccine vulnerable to infringement lawsuits.

A three-judge panel affirmed the decisions of the Patent Trial and Appeals Board on two patents held by rival drugmaker Arbutus Biopharma.

The patents relate to the nanoparticles that enclose the vaccine's messenger RNA material.

The ruling could leave the door open for demands by Arbutus for Covid vaccine royalty payments from Moderna, according to a Reuters report.

By the end of the day, Moderna closed down by 11.8% at $310.61, while Arbutus Biopharma traded up by 51% at $4.80. Roviant Sciences, which owns Arbutus, stood 17.4% higher at $1.55. 

‘Loss of vaccine effectiveness’

Moderna saw its stock rise by almost a third at the end of last week, as anxiety over the Omicron variant of Covid-19 skyrocketed. 

On Tuesday, CEO Stéphane Bancel told the Financial Times that he thought that there would be “a material drop” in the effectiveness of existing vaccines against the new strain.

“I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data,” he said. “But all the scientists I’ve talked to...are like, ‘This is not going to be good’.”

Despite this, the immediate reaction of many governments in Europe and North America has been to accelerate existing vaccination programmes, with British prime minister Boris Johnson aiming for all adults to be offered a Covid booster shot by the end of January. 

‘Nothing warrants this extreme action‘

On Tuesday, Dr Angelique Coetzee, the first person to alert the world about Omicron, called into question both the response of the UK government, undermining the unanimity of scientific opinion surrounding Omicron described by Bancel. 

The chair of the South African Medical Association wrote that some evidence suggests the variant could turn out to be a “fast-spreading virus with mostly mild symptoms for the majority of the people who catch it.” 

She added that she had been “stunned at the response”, adding: “Nothing I have seen about this new variant warrants the extreme action the UK government has taken in response to it.”

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