Moderna has backed down in a bitter dispute with the government over who deserves credit for a crucial component of its coronavirus shot, in a case that has major implications for the vaccine’s future distribution and Moderna’s future profits.
Moderna has decided for now not to take the final step in securing a patent — making the payment that would allow it to be issued — because doing so “could interfere with further discussions aimed at an amicable resolution” with the National Institutes of Health, Colleen Hussey, a spokeswoman for Moderna, said on Friday.
She said the company also wanted to “avoid any distraction” to ongoing collaborations as it races to determine whether it will need to modify its shot or take other steps to fight the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
Moderna, whose vaccine grew out of a four-year partnership with the National Institutes of Health, maintains its position that its scientists alone deserve credit for the genetic sequence at the heart of the vaccine, but “acknowledges that N.I.H. feels equally strongly” that its scientists should be named as co-inventors, Ms. Hussey said.
Ms. Hussey said the company had informed the N.I.H. a week ago of its decision to back down in the dispute. The Washington Post earlier reported Moderna’s decision.
Moderna could still secure the intellectual property claims it was seeking. The company has filed an application that would allow it to do so later, Ms. Hussey said.
The company had been seeking to patent the genetic sequence that instructs the body’s cells to make a harmless version of the spike proteins that stud the coronavirus’s surface, prompting a powerful immune response.
If the N.I.H. scientists were credited on the patent, the government could, in theory, have more of a say in which companies manufacture the vaccine. The federal treasury could also bring in revenue from licensing out the patent.
Moderna had only named several of its own scientists as the co-inventors of the sequence — even though company scientists worked closely with N.I.H. researchers in the earliest days of the pandemic, racing to identify the gene for the virus’s spike protein that would offer a blueprint for designing a vaccine.
Moderna has also received $1.4 billion from the federal government to develop and test its vaccine and another $8.1 billion to provide the country with 500 million doses.
The N.I.H. has said three scientists at its Vaccine Research Center — Dr. John R. Mascola, the center’s director; Dr. Barney S. Graham, who retired this year; and Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, who is now at Harvard — should be named as co-inventors on the disputed patent.