On the heels of a federal court victory, the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT is calling for the end of a long and winding legal fight over the ownership of the landmark genome editing system CRISPR-Cas9.
The widespread ability for humans to manipulate their own DNA and that of many other organisms has arrived, perhaps faster than anyone once expected. And that has happened thanks to the discovery in the early part of this decade that CRISPR-Cas9, a defense system that bacteria use against invading viruses, could be engineered into an easy-to-use laboratory tool.
Who discovered CRISPR-Cas9, however, has been the matter of dispute for many years. The Cambridge, MA-based Broad has argued that its researchers, led by Feng Zhang, were first to use CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the DNA in mammalian cells—including humans, of course, where perhaps the greatest stakes lie because of CRISPR’s potential as the basis of high-priced medicines. They published a paper in Science in 2013.
Fighting the Broad has been a group led by the University of California, Berkeley. UC researcher Jennifer Doudna and her European collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, whose work took place in part at the University of Vienna, Austria, published a seminal paper in 2012 (known as “Jinek” after one of the other authors) describing CRISPR-Cas9’s editing capability.
But today’s ruling—decided unanimously by a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals—upholds a previous decision in 2014 that awarded the Broad the first CRISPR patent.
The federal judges wrote that “it is undisputed that the Jinek 2012 article did not report the results of experiments using CRISPR-Cas9 in a eukaryotic cell, and the claims in UC’s ’859 application do not refer to a particular cell type or environment.”
In a statement, the Broad Institute said, “It is time for all institutions to move beyond litigation. We should work together to ensure wide, open access to this transformative technology.”
UC Berkeley issued a statement attributed to Charles Robinson in the office of general counsel that the group is “evaluating further litigation options.”
Despite the U.S. legal victories for the Broad, Doudna and Charpentier have won recognition with prestigious science awards such as this year’s Kavli Prize.
Today’s ruling could pave the way toward a massive cross-licensing deal, as often happens in biotech patent disputes. Since the seminal discoveries of the Zhang and Doudna groups, both sides have received other patents in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere.
Moreover, an ever-growing number of CRISPR variations have emerged from the two groups and others, spurring new fields of competition, such as medical diagnostics.
Several companies have licensed the two sides’ intellectual property. The Cambridge-based biotech closely affiliated with the Broad, Editas Medicine (NASDAQ: EDIT), saw its share price rise slightly after the court ruling this morning. Two companies affiliated with the UC Berkeley-Vienna side, CRISPR Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CRSP) and Intellia Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NTLA), are down slightly in midday trading Monday.