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Moderna extends patent waiver for COVID vaccine, but only for lower-income countries

Moderna will allow other vaccine makers to use its technology to make COVID-19 shots in 92 lower and middle-income countries, the company announced Monday.

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Elsewhere, however, the company "expects those using Moderna-patented technologies will respect the company's intellectual property" and agree to license on "commercially reasonable terms."

Moderna had said in 2020 that it wouldn't enforce patents for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, a stance that earned praise from public health advocates. Monday's announcement drew some criticism from those same advocates, who argued that enforcing patents in wealthier countries could still thwart efforts to supply vaccines in countries like South Africa, Argentina and Brazil.

The biotech company also announced plans to begin studies of experimental vaccines for 15 emerging or neglected infectious diseases by 2025, as well as allowing other researchers to access its mRNA technology to develop vaccines. Additionally, Moderna will build an mRNA manufacturing plant in Kenya.

The 92 countries where Moderna will not enforce COVID-19 related patents are part of the "advance market commitment" drawn together by the global vaccines non-profit GAVI. Included are some countries with large populations, such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But others, like Brazil, are left off.

In higher-income countries, Moderna said, "vaccine supply is no longer a barrier to access" and therefore licensing of its COVID-19 intellectual property is appropriate for drugmakers who want to make use of its mRNA technology.

"Doing so enables Moderna to continue to invest in research to develop new vaccines, prepare for the next pandemic, and meet other pressing areas of unmet medical need," the company said in a statement.

Public health advocates said Moderna is "narrowing" its previous pledge to waive patent enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the World Health Organization hasn't declared over. And its approach could complicate efforts to deliver mRNA vaccines developed in a South African hub in that country as well as two WHO-selected centers in Brazil and Argentina.

Moderna's action comes as negotiations have slowed at the World Trade Organization over potential intellectual property waivers for products to prevent, treat and diagnose pandemic-related illnesses. President Joe Biden controversially supported such waivers, a move that was met with opposition from Germany and within the European Union.

James Love, director of the advocacy group Knowledge Economy International, wrote on Twitter that Moderna's offer to extend the patent enforcement moratorium, as well as the other components of its global public health strategy, appear to be intended to get lower-income nations to agree to the European and U.S. positions on those global pandemic patent waivers.

Published March 8, 2022

Jonathan Gardner Senior Reporter

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