Dear Secretary Becerra, Dr. Collins, and Dr. Fauci:
We write about the soon-to-issue-patent, U.S. Patent No. 10,960,070 (“the ’070 patent”),1 that protects the use of proline-substituted coronavirus spike proteins stabilized in their prefusion conformation as a vaccine immunogen. The mRNA-1273 vaccine, co-developed by NIAID and Moderna, utilizes this technology for its immunogen.2 The ’070 patent is owned by the United States Government, reflecting the critical contributions that NIAID and NIH made to the invention of this technology.3
This government-owned patent is an important policy tool that the U.S. government could use to facilitate scale up of production of mRNA-1273 and ensure rapid, equitable global access.
Currently, at best, only one billion doses of mRNA-1273 will be produced in 20214, far short of global demand.
The U.S. government has not licensed the patent to Moderna.5 It is imperative that the NIH uses any licensing agreement to include provisions to help increase global access to this lifesaving technology, rather than just a monetary royalty.
Specifically, the licensing agreement should:
1. Empower the U.S. government to authorize manufacturing of mRNA-1273 – including by government-owned production facilities.
Currently, Moderna has only contracted with a single contract manufacturing organization (CMO), Lonza Group AG, to produce drug substance for mRNA-1273. By contracting with other CMOs to produce drug substance and help perform other manufacturing steps, more doses of mRNA-1273 could be produced. Such provisions should include the ability for the
U.S. government to compel transfer of know-how from Moderna to other CMOs to facilitate scale up for all production steps of the manufacturing process.
2. Require technology sharing with the World Health Organization to help ramp up global production.
The Director-General of the World Health Organization has urged countries to share vaccine technology and know-how openly to help build global manufacturing capacity.6 Moderna has so far ignored requests from developing country manufacturers to share technology.7 Requiring Moderna to work with the WHO’s COVID-19 technology access pool can help unlock additional production.
3. Include requirements for accessible pricing universally.
Moderna is currently charging between US$10 and US$40 a dose for mRNA-12738, despite it costing less than $3 a dose to manufacture9. This high price, coupled with Moderna’s lack of planned market entry for many low- and middle-income countries, may prevent those most in need from accessing mRNA-1273. Licensing the ’070 patent gives the U.S. government leverage to increase global access by requiring accessible pricing to mRNA-1273.
Assertion of U.S. government-owned intellectual property to increase access to pharmaceutical products is not unprecedented. In 2019, the federal government sued Gilead Sciences for its infringement of government owned patents protecting the use of Truvada and Descovy for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – and per the complaint itself, is using that litigation to increase access to PrEP.10 That lawsuit is ongoing.
U.S. taxpayers have invested over $2.5 billion in the development of mRNA-1273.11 Now it is time for our government to ensure that this critical lifesaving technology be made available to all. This could contribute to saving millions of lives globally. It also will help protect public health here at home. Global vaccination with highly effective vaccines, like mRNA-1273, is our best defense against the development of vaccine-resistant variants of SARS-CoV2.
Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments or concerns. We would like to meet with you and your teams as soon as possible regarding this issue.
Health Justice Initiative
Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH
Dean and DeLamar Professor of Public Health Mailman School of Public Health
Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine Columbia University
Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, MPAi Dean, School of Global Public Health
Professor. Health Policy and Management New York University
Ayman El-Mohandes, MBBCh, MD, MPH
Dean, Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy City University of New York (CUNY)
Monica Gandhi MD, MPH
Professor of Medicine and Associate Division Chief (Clinical Operations/ Education) Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
Adaora A. Adimora, MD, MPH
Sarah Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Professor of Epidemiology The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chris Beyrer MD, MPH
Desmond M. Tutu Professor in Public Health and Human Rights Professor of Epidemiology, Nursing and Medicine
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Senior Scientific Liaison, COVID Vaccine Prevention Network, Co-VPN
Steffanie Strathdee, PhD
Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences, Harold Simon Professor
Department of Medicine
University of California, San Diego
Co-Director, Center for Innovative Phage Applications & Therapeutics (IPATH)
Kenneth Mayer M.D.
Infectious Disease Attending and Director of HIV Prevention Research Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Professor of Medicine Harvard Medical School
Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, MPH, MPA
University Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine Columbia University
Carlos del Rio, MD Executive Associate Dean
Emory School of Medicine & Grady Health System Distinguished Professor
Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Emory University School of Medicine Professor
Hubert Department of Global Health-Rollins School of Public Health Co-Director
Emory Center for AIDS Research Co-PI
Emory-CDC HIV Clinical Trials Unit and the Emory Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit
John P. Moore, PhD
Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Weill Cornell Medical School
Gregg Gonsalves, PhD
Assistant Professor, Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases Yale School of Public Health
Associate Professor (Adjunct) and Research Scholar Yale Law School
Co-Director, Yale Global Health Justice Partnership Affiliated Faculty, Public Health Modeling Unit Affiliated Faculty, Addiction Medicine
Affiliated Faculty, Jackson Institute for Global Affairs
Matthew M. Kavanagh, PhD Visiting Professor of Law
Assistant Professor of Global Health
Director, Global Health Policy & Politics Initiative Georgetown University
Christopher J. Morten, JD, PhD Deputy Director
Technology Law and Policy Clinic New York University School of Law
David Barr Principal
The Fremont Center