Covid vaccine. Why tension is mounting between Moderna and the US government

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Its vaccine against Covid, the American biotechnology company Moderna did not develop it alone, but its legend, that, its leaders have built it well like grown-ups, with special effects and everything from a Hollywood blockbuster . And this legend, they still defend it, diehards, today, against all odds, starting with the obvious. So, no, they don’t do it just for the sake of prestige. It’s a question of big bucks first, without a doubt.

The bullshit of industry ridiculed

According to the fluted account of his boss, the French Stéphane Bancel who, at the start of the pandemic, had made the big Pharma candy out of date by promising Donald Trump a vaccine in record time, the start-up without a factory – in the era – did not need more than two days, in January 2020, after the disclosure by China of the first decoding of the genome of this new coronavirus, to develop the sequence of its future ribonucleic acid (RNA ) messenger.

His colleague Dave Johnson, the vice-president in charge of artificial intelligence at Moderna, has, in front of a panel brought together by the digital giant Amazon, narrated how, thanks to algorithms on all floors, his company was able to immediately launch production. , deliver the first samples in February and begin clinical trials in mid-March 2020, at the time of the first confinements in Europe. “It’s unprecedented, the process normally takes many, many years”, he was gargling recently.

$ 1.4 billion put on the table by the public sector

In this saga, however, one actor who stars has been cut in the editing: it is the American public administration which funded from start to finish the research, development, studies and production of this film. same vaccine.

It is undeniable, however: while the United States also paid a high price – Moderna invoiced them 500 million doses for 8.1 billion dollars (7.1 billion euros) -, the public authority United States responsible in particular for helping the pharmaceutical sector (Barda) has also, without hesitation, extended $ 1.4 billion (1.22 billion euros) for research. On paper, this gives the public sector the right to have the “vaccine recipe” and to share this data with third parties. The Biden administration could thus have pooled trade secrets within the World Health Organization (WHO).

Moderna erased three scientists

In recent days, another public sector cover-up by Moderna has come to light. After months of trying to settle the matter out of court, the powerful United States public health agency – the National Institute of Health (NIH) – has exposed a crass manipulation in the registration by the start- up of patents protecting its “inventions” linked to Covid-19.

Moderna has simply erased three scientists – John Mascola, Barney Graham and Kizzmekia Corbett – who, in a framework of public research, have deciphered the key genetic sequence used by the vaccine of the American laboratory. Corbett’s team was even the first to stabilize the famous spike protein essential for the production of immune cells that generate antibodies.

According to the NIH, its three leaders in public research should have been named, at least as “co-inventors”, in the patents filed by Moderna. However, the company cites only some of its employees and sharply returns the American agency to the ropes: through a press release, Moderna affirms “Have in good faith acquired the certainty that these people did not co-invent” the determining component in the vaccine marketed by it. For months, Anthony Fauci, the famous chief medical adviser to the White House, was content to systematically refer to the product as the “NIH-Moderna vaccine”, but that was not enough.

Joe Biden criticizes Moderna, words less and less covered

Today, there is no longer any question of fraternal congratulations between scientists, but no longer direct rights to the vaccine. NIH Director Francis Collins promises legal action: “Moderna made a big mistake by not recognizing the major role these people play in developing a vaccine that they are making huge profits from, and we’re not going to stop there.” he threatens.

For months, Joe Biden has been criticizing, with words less and less covered, Moderna’s stranglehold on a vaccine production circuit that he considers too weak and faulty: the lab has just revised downwards its delivery commitments. next year.

“With the growing chasms in global vaccine distribution, there is an urgent need for the US government to gain much tighter control over these technologies.Peter Maybarduk, one of the leaders of the NGO Public Citizen

$ 65,000 earned per minute

With this quarrel now in the public arena, the rules of the game may change: co-ownership of the main patent would allow the US government to license the Moderna vaccine anywhere in the world.

In an open letter sent in early November, which sparked the affair, Peter Maybarduk, one of the leaders of the NGO Public Citizen, warns: “With the growing chasms in global vaccine distribution, there is an urgent need for the US government to gain much tighter control over these technologies. “

On Tuesday, the global coalition of NGOs for universal access to vaccines (People’s Vaccine Alliance) revealed a devastating calculation: with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna is now earning more than $ 1,000 per second thanks to the vaccine, $ 65,000 per minute and $ 93.5 million per day. Whereas, in the poorest countries of the planet, 98% of the inhabitants have not been vaccinated.

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