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Does It Really Matter if the Government Helped Develop Moderna's Vaccine?

By Brian Orelli, PhD and Keith Speights – Nov 23, 2021 at 8:20AM

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Investors have bigger things to worry about.

Moderna (MRNA -2.01%) is having issues with the National Institutes of Health, which claims that three of its scientists should be named on the company's patent for its COVID-19 vaccine. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on Nov. 15, Motley Fool contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli go into more detail about the dispute, which has not affected the stock price much.

The duo conclude that investors should be more worried about other issues facing the company's COVID-19 vaccine, including the lowered sales projections for the year and its delay in filing for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in children.

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Brian Orelli: Sticking with COVID-19, Moderna and the government are apparently in a tussle over who invented Moderna's vaccine. Is this something that investors should be worried about?

Keith Speights: This is an interesting one here. The National Institutes of Health, NIH, says that three of its scientists -- that includes two who are no longer with the organization -- but they're saying that three of its scientists helped Moderna design the genetic sequence that's core to Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine. Because of this, the NIH believes that its scientists should be on the patent application for Moderna's vaccine, and that would make the agency a co-owner of the vaccine. The U.S. government also, by the way, helped fund Moderna's COVID vaccine development. What happened here, though, is Moderna denies that NIH scientists helped select the mRNA sequence used in its vaccine. The company even said that in late September it offered to resolve this dispute by including the government scientists on the patent applications, but apparently, the government didn't like that for some reason. There are probably some details there that we're not aware of.

But I think worry is probably too strong of a word to use here. Investors definitely will want to watch what happens with this for sure, but maybe the ultimate outcome will just be that NIH gets co-ownership rights that allow it to license the vaccine for manufacturing to other companies for use in low- and middle-income countries. But beyond that, Moderna has the rights to do whatever it wants to do. If that happens, I would think that the financial impact of Moderna wouldn't be all that great since the company doesn't make as much profit in those low- and middle-income countries. But this is one to keep a watch on. This is going to be an interesting story as it unfolds.

Orelli: The other thing is [that] long-term, if you're assuming that we're going to need to take COVID boosters, we're probably going to end up with a different sequence on the vaccine anyway. This initial one probably isn't going to really be the one that makes Moderna money long-term, and so maybe the license doesn't really matter in the long term.

Speights: Yeah. All of this story really was getting traction last week with, I think, Dr. Francis Collins, who's the head of the NIH, had an interview with Reuters. The New York Times had written some stories on this. But Moderna stock slid a little bit week, but not much.

I don't think investors as a group are super concerned about this. I think they actually have bigger issues to worry about with Moderna. The company projected lower sales for its vaccine this year, and that was really because of some issues that their sales will transition into next year. The company's having to delay its EUA filing for its vaccine in younger kids because the FDA is taking longer to review the vaccine in adolescents. There are just some other issues that I think investors may be even more concerned about with Moderna right now.

Keith Speights have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Moderna. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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