CRISPR Ruling Invalidates Some Biotech Company Patents

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, The Broad Institute invented CRISPR-Cas9 technology in animal cells. This was in a dispute that has been ongoing for years. It is affecting the licensing agreements of several highly-watched biotech companies.

Tuesday’s ruling put Jennifer Doudna, Nobel winner from the University of California at Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Chapentier (University of Vienna) as the winners. They failed to show that they are the first to apply gene-editing technology to animal cells. During the long patent dispute, UC Berkeley claimed that their scientists had discovered a method to direct CRISPR/Cas9 at specific places on the genome. Broad claimed that its scientists proved the technology works in animals and plants, as well as humans.
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CRISPR Therapeutics AG has licensed CRISPR Cas9 to UC Berkeley and University of Vienna (known as CVC). This license was granted by a number of biotechnology firms, including Intellia Therapeutics Inc. Jacob Sherkow from the University of Illinois, who is a law professor, stated that the ruling will invalidate those patents and the companies would need to license technology from Broad Institute.

The Broad Institute, a research group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, can’t sue companies until any drugs are approved, Sherkow said. But the decision casts a “pretty long shadow” over companies developing CRISPR medicines with licenses from CVC, he said.

University of California stated that it regrets the decision and believes that it includes a lot of mistakes. CVC said it is looking into various ways to appeal the decision.

A spokesperson for Intellia said the decision doesn’t impact any of its ongoing research and development plans, while CRISPR Therapeutics said its programs will continue to advance and aren’t affected by the ruling. Doudna didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Editas Medicine Inc. has an exclusive licensing arrangement with Broad Institute. Editas Medicine Inc. praised the decision. The shares rose up to 17% during late trading Monday.

Intellia shared Monday’s data with CRISPR Therapeutics, but fell 9.2%.

Already, biotech companies are exploring other gene-editing technology options such as base editing or enzymes.

“It’ll be really, really important for a short period of time then not so much anymore,” Sherkow said of the decision.

—With assistance from Susan Decker.


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