The negotiations of Moderna on its Covid-19 vaccine sale in China collapsed over the weekend after the Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical company refused to hand over to Beijing the core intellectual property behind the development of its breakthrough jab.
To date, foreign Covid-19 vaccine makers were offered two routes for distributing their products in China, dependent on regulatory approval: establishing a China-based manufacturing facility with a local partner, while keeping control of the underlying technology or carrying out a full technology transfer to a domestic drugmaker.
Moderna – who had given up on its previous efforts to access the Chinese market due to Beijing’s demand that it hand over the technology as a prerequisite for selling into the country – was pressed to take the latter option and the negotiations took place between 2020 and 2021.
The pharma giant, which is still eager to sell the product to China – which has not approved any mRNA products for therapeutic purposes – turned down its request to hand over the recipe for its messenger RNA vaccine because of commercial and safety concerns, also insisting that handing over patents would do little to address supply constraints.
The Moderna leadership, which has been fiercely protective of its intellectual property around the world, fears the reputational damage the company would suffer if the local partner botched the manufacturing.
The company’s talks for a tech transfer to local manufacturing sites in Italy have also failed because, as Moderna explained, it lacked the capacity to oversee it.
Compared to the inactivated vaccine technology used by Chinese makers Sinopharm and Sinovac, the mRNA vaccine technology used by Moderna, and BioNTech/Pfizer provides longer-lasting and higher levels of protection.
Various Chinese pharma companies that were racing to develop a homemade mRNA alternative have struggled with the emergence of more infectious variants.