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CRISPR In the Courts

Here’s an article from the Independent on the legal battles that are underway about CRISPR technology. On one level, it can be a somewhat ugly story, but it also shows how much of a discovery the technique has been, that people are willing to fight for the rights to it so vigorously. But it’s going to take a lot of straightening out:

On the one side is a consortium of world-class researchers led by French-born Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier who made a key discovery behind the Crispr gene editing technique and has been promised $25m (£16m) by a group of venture capitalists to commercialise her invention for medical use.
On the other side is her former colleague and the co-discoverer of the gene-editing process, Professor Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, who has joined a rival consortium of researchers with $43m in venture capital to advance the Crispr technique into the clinic.
Each group has recruited a formidable panel of senior scientists as advisers. The Charpentier team, called Crispr Therapeutics, includes Nobel Laureate Craig Mello, the co-discoverer of a gene-silencing technique known as RNAi, and Daniel Anderson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was the first person to show that Crispr can cure a genetic disease in an adult animal.
Meanwhile the Doudna team, known as Editas Medicine, includes the Harvard geneticist George Church, a pioneer in synthetic biology, and Feng Zhang of MIT and the Broad Institute, who successfully managed to get Crispr to work in human cells and was this month awarded the first US patent on the technique – much to the dismay of Professor Charpentier.

Another crack at human gene therapy, that’s one of the biggest engines driving all this. I hope that the legal wrangling doesn’t slow that down. . .

11 comments on “CRISPR In the Courts”

  1. Note that Charpentier and Doudna are co-inventors on the *same* patent.

  2. johnnyboy says:

    It used to be that fundamental research was driven by people who cared most about advancing the state of knowledge… Can you imagine Watson and Crick battling it out in court. with brigades of lawyers and VCs behind them ? What a terrible waste.

  3. Anon says:

    I hope Bruce Booth could chime in. How do VCs go about investing when the ownership is still up in the air like this?

  4. Jonathan says:

    @johnnyboy – what else do you expect? After decades of the public berating the government for spending money on pie-in-the-sky research, laws like Bayh-Dole and the constant drumbeat from stakeholders demanding more translation and practical applications, the incentives have led us to where we are today.

  5. Fred the Fourth says:

    #3 I am not a VC, but I do invest on a smaller scale. If the IP is in court, I stay well away.

  6. Anonymous says:

    @3: “How do VCs go about investing when the ownership is still up in the air like this?”
    Simple, they don’t.

  7. MDACC grad says:

    @6
    Editas Medicine- 25m series A backered by Polaris Partners, Third Rock Ventures, Flagship Ventures, and Partners Innovation Fund
    Crispr Therapeutics- 43m series A backed by Versant
    So it’s already happened…
    I feel these won’t grow much beyond cell culture techniques in the next few years (which their analysts obviously disagree with) but how can you invest when you know there is a going to be such an obvious risk in the courtroom?

  8. Anonymous says:

    @7: The wise ones don’t, the rest should know better.
    Meanwhile I agree, this probably won’t result in more than a cell culture tool, so why they would invest with such dispute still open I have no idea.

  9. drug_hunter says:

    I’m not a lawyer but I would say: Guess the VCs think the risk is manageable. Given the medical potential of CRISPR, you would hardly want to steer clear because of this sort of concern. Maybe whomever ends up controlling the IP gets a 3% cut of the eventual drug sales. Usually these sorts of things get sorted out in a reasonable way. Celera and Incyte, during the heyday of the “patent the genome” mania (circa 1999-2000), never to my knowledge actually prevented anyone from pursuing a hot target.

  10. newnickname says:

    Following the links, I get to the published patent app US 2014/0068797 A1, Pub Mar 6, 2014. (The patent is not yet approved or granted; it is still being examined.)
    Even tho’ the INVENTORS include both Doudna and Charpentier, the ASSIGNEES are both Univ of Vienna AND Regents of the Univ Calif. The assignees, UVienna and Berkeley, OWN and CONTROL the patent.
    I have no idea how they arranged (pre-arranged?) how the rights would be licensed or shared but I see no problem with granting non-exclusive licenses to Doudna’s company AND to Charpentier’s company. It seems to me that Vienna and Berkeley have better chances for a bigger payday with more companies licensing and competing to develop the technology.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Plus one covers US space and the other the European market. Who is doing the asian market ?

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