Will patent disputes over who ‘discovered’ CRISPR gene editing slow development of gene therapies?


[Editor’s note: Excerpts are from an interview with Jennifer Doudna, one of the discoverers of the revolutionary CRISPR gene-editing technology. The interview included Doudna’s response to a recent patent decision that went against her and the University of California, Berkeley. The dispute between UC Berkeley and the Broad Institute was over who owns the patents to CRISPR. Broad was awarded key patents, while UC Berkeley’s related patents, filed earlier, are still pending.]

About 10 years ago, scientists at a yogurt laboratory in Denmark noticed a peculiar feature in a bacterial genome…Such genetic palindromes had been seen before and had already been given a name: clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR.

Across the globe, scientists dug into the discovery.


Doudna and Charpentier found that the CRISPR-Cas9 complex could be fairly easily co-opted to alter the genetics of other organisms. In other words, CRISPR-Cas9 is an entry point for genetic engineering. They published this finding in 2012. But this team wasn’t the only one trying to unravel CRISPR-Cas9 and figure out how to capitalize on nature’s genius. At the Broad Institute, bioengineer Feng Zhang was doing the same.

What do you think about the [CRISPR patent] ruling?

The judges declared that both sets of claims, brought by the Broad on the one hand and by University of California on the other, are separately patentable inventions. That ruling means that the Broad’s patent will stand and also that our patent can now be issued, which I’m pleased about.


Many reports of the ruling have characterized it as a big win for the Broad Institute. Do you agree?

I think the decision is more nuanced than that. I think obviously the Broad Institute is happy that their patent didn’t get thrown out. We’re delighted that our patent can now proceed to be issued.

The Broad has a patent for the use of CRISPR-Cas9 in one type of cell. Our patent claims to cover all types of cells. The analogy I’ve been using to describe this is that it’s as though they have a patent for green tennis balls but we have a patent for all tennis balls. That’s where things stand at the moment.

Jennifer Doudna

What kind of developments might we see down that road?

I think on the human therapies side, it’s very exciting right now. Clinical trials with the CRISPR-Cas9 technology trials are already proceeding in cancer patients. I think what’s coming along in the not-too-distant future will be clinical trials using this technology to treat or even cure genetic disease.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: Meet the Scientist Bringing Gene Editing to Life: An Interview with Jennifer Doudna

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