Korean, US firms in legal battle over Covid-19 vaccine know-how

Lee Han-soo  Published 2020.06.08  21:28  Updated 2020.06.08 21:28


A legal dispute is underway between American vaccine maker Inovio and VGXI, a U.S. subsidiary of Korea’s GeneOne Life Science, over the latter's proprietary technology needed to produce Inovio's Covid-19 vaccines in the U.S.

The two companies have long been long partners in developing various vaccines. Most recently, the two unveiled the result of a trial for INO-4700, a Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) DNA vaccine, during a U.S. conference in April.

However, the partnership may come to an end, as Inovio sued VGXI last Wednesday, claiming that VGXI did not have the needed manufacturing capacity to produce its Covid-19 vaccine at scales. In the suit, Inovio demanded that VGXI turn over information on the manufacturing process and quality procedures required to make the vaccine.

"VGXI signed a contract to make Inovio's vaccine products that requires them to share their manufacturing methods with Inovio or other suppliers if VGXI can't make the products itself," Inovio said in the suit. "With VGXI already at maximum capacity, Inovio demanded that VGXI share its technology with other suppliers so that Inovio can make 1 million doses of its DNA-based vaccine by the end of 2020."

As VGXI has declined to share the relevant information for vaccine production, Inovio is claiming that VGXI violated its contract and has kept Inovio's vaccine and world health hostage, perhaps to squeeze more money from Inovio or because it has buyer's remorse over its existing deal.

GeneOne and VGXI refuted Inovio's claims, stating that the suit is only a ploy for Inovio to gain VGXI's intellectual property related to the vaccine production.

"VGXI has been a good manufacturing partner to Inovio," the company said in a statement. "Inovio could start its clinical trials in April thanks to VGXI's efforts and collaboration."

For unknown reasons to VGXI, rather than continue to work with the company, Inovio has instead filed this court action to try to take VGXI's intellectual property, it went on to say.

The company pointed out that Inovio's claims in the suit were not explicit.

"The U.S. court has already denied Inovio's motion to seal the record from public," it said. "Inovio is also in breach of its obligation under the supply agreement with VGXI."

Therefore, VGXI provided Inovio with a notice of termination on May 7, it added.

GeneOne Life Science was unavailable for further comments regarding the situation.

The suit comes after Inovio became the first vaccine maker to conduct clinical trials in Korea for Covid-19, which kicked off last Thursday. The International Vaccine Institute (IVI) and Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) are conducting a phase 1 and 2 clinical trials for Inovio's INO-4800. The company also launched its clinical trial for the vaccine in the U.S. in April.

The U.S. had a turbulent time last week after the U.S. government left the firm off the list of five firms that are most prominent to commercialize a viable Covid-19 before the year ends.

The U.S. administration announced its five finalists -- AstraZeneca, Merck, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna -- for the "Operation Warp Speed," a project to develop Covid-19 vaccines.

<© KBR , All rights reserved.>