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As Its Rivals Team Up, Editas Buys Next-Gen CRISPR From Old Friends

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between Doudna and Charpentier regarding their respective contributions,” he says. “It was unclear how those were going to be resolved.”

Doudna cofounded Caribou in 2011 to develop CRISPR-Cas9 technology across several fields, including medicine, agriculture, and industrial production. Caribou later granted Intellia an exclusive license to use its toolkit to develop human medicines. Charpentier, meanwhile, licensed her rights to Crispr Therapeutics, which is headquartered in Switzerland but mainly operates in Cambridge, MA.

Under the new agreement, Crispr Therapeutics and Intellia are not obliged to share with each other advances they have created on their own or with partners, according to Crispr Therapeutics CEO Rodger Novak. For example, each company is working on ways to deliver CRISPR-Cas9 into cells. The new agreement also does not restrict the companies from developing rival products. “Both companies have freedom to operate and can develop whatever product they intend to,” says Novak. “Since the applicability of the technology is so broad, we are currently not seeing the need to restrict ourselves.” Intellia officials were not immediately available for comment. [Updated with Novak comments.]

Editas, Crispr Therapeutics, and Intellia are all advancing CRISPR-Cas9 programs toward clinical studies, either on their own or with deep-pocketed biopharma partners. Editas has publicly set a goal of starting a rare eye disease trial this year. But the firm is likely quite a ways from testing Cpf1-based treatments in humans.

(Meanwhile, one group in China says it has begun a lung-cancer trial using live immune cells genetically altered with CRISPR-Cas9. In the U.S., a University of Pennsylvania research group could start an immune-cell cancer trial next year if the FDA allows.)

To license Cpf1 and other Cas9-related technology, Editas is paying the collective six institutions $6.25 million upfront, $10 million more in future cash or stock, and other potential milestones down the road. In addition to the Broad Institute, the recipients are Harvard University, MIT, the University of Iowa, Wageningen University of the Netherland, and the University of Tokyo.

Photo of Feng Zhang by Keith Spiro.

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