GERMANY – German biotech company CureVac has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against rival BioNTech for work that it says contributed to the development of the BioNTech-Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

BioNTech said its work is original and it would “vigorously” contest the claim.

CureVac, which last year reported disappointing results from late-stage testing of its own first-generation COVID-19 shot, earlier this year started a clinical trial of a second-generation vaccine candidate developed with British pharmaceutical company GSK.

The company said it was seeking “fair compensation” from BioNTech for the alleged infringement, but it didn’t cite an amount.

CureVac said it would not pursue a court injunction and doesn’t “intend to take legal action that impedes the production, sale or distribution” by BioNTech and partner Pfizer of their successful Comirnaty vaccine.

Both CureVac and BioNTech have worked to develop the messenger RNA technology employed in their respective vaccines and potentially for other uses.

CureVac said it filed its suit against BioNTech and two subsidiaries at the state court in Duesseldorf. It asserted in a statement that its intellectual property portfolio “protects multiple inventions that are considered essential to the design and development of BioNTech’s SARS CoV-2 mRNA vaccine, among others.”

BioNTech said its work is original and it would “vigorously” contest the claim.

Those, it said, relate to the engineering of mRNA molecules, including sequence modifications to increase stability, and mRNA vaccine formulations specific to COVID-19 vaccines.

BioNTech said in a statement that it values and respects valid intellectual property rights, adding that its “work is original, and we will vigorously defend it against all allegations of patent infringement.”

“However, we are aware that it is not unusual that other companies in the pharmaceutical industry, having witnessed the success of Comirnaty, are now suggesting that the vaccine potentially infringes their intellectual property rights,” it said.

CureVac bolsters its cancer vaccine development capabilities

Meanwhile, having missed out on the COVID-19 vaccine windfall enjoyed by its mRNA rivals BioNTech and Moderna, CureVac has dived into a next-generation coronavirus candidate and to cancer vaccines to reignite its business.

CureVac inked an acquisition in June, buying Frame Cancer Therapeutics for its ability to identify unique and shared neoantigens in a deal that values the Dutch startup at 32 million euros (US$34 million).

In return for the outlay, CureVac gains control of a platform for identifying structural changes within the cancer genome.

By identifying changes that create new open reading frames (ORFs), the biotech is hoping to zero in on novel proteins that are absent from healthy tissues and are therefore recognized as foreign by the immune system.

The genetic changes that give rise to new open reading frames are specific to individual patients. Yet, if CureVac is right, the resulting neoantigenic proteins may be shared across many patients, enabling their use in cancer vaccines that are more broadly applicable.

In May, the German biotech struck a deal with myNEO to find specific antigens on the surface of tumors for the development of mRNA immunotherapies.

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