- Amid a high-profile legal battle, a group of CRISPR biotechs have banded together to coordinate the defense and enforcement of key patents tied to the promising, yet still unproven, gene-editing technology.
- CRISPR Therapeutics, Intellia Therapeutics, Caribou Biosciences and ERS Genomics have all agreed to a global cross-consent and invention management deal covering the CRISPR/Cas9-related intellectual property owned by the University of California, Emmanuelle Charpentier and University of Vienna.
- The University of California is currently challenging competing patents awarded to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, dividing the CRISPR community into competing camps.
"We believe that the Charpentier-University of California-Vienna IP estate constitutes the foundational IP in the CRISPR/Cas9 editing space," said Rodger Novak, CEO of CRISPR Therapeutics, in a statement on the agreement.
The Broad Institute and Editas Medicine, which draws its IP from the Broad, would disagree.
While the University of California's Jennifer Doudna published the landmark 2012 study showing CRISPR's gene-editing potential, The Broad believes its researcher Feng Zheng made the crucial scientific step which demonstrated CRISPR could be applied to human DNA. Under now-changed patent rules, The Board was awarded the initial patent. (Scientific American has a good recap of the key events here.)
UC is challenging that decision by the U.S. Patent Office through a process known as "interference." The first and only oral arguments in the case were held earlier this month and a decision is likely sometime next year.
The decision will set the patent landscape for the emerging tech, impacting the biotechs which are moving CRISPR from the lab into clinical testing.
"Intellia, CRISPR Therapeutics, Caribou and ERS view this agreement as enhancing the efforts to protect our shared intellectual property rights and support the ongoing development of our product candidates, as well as those of our corresponding partners and licensees," Novak said.
Per the deal, each of the co-owners (i.e. UC, Charpentier or the University of Vienna) grants so-called cross-consents to "all existing and future licenses based on the rights of another co-owner."
The agreement unites the biotechs aligned with UC into a more cohesive group opposing the Broad and Editas. Yet even if the Broad wins, the impact to the biotechs themselves may less damaging than first appearances.
Novak and Nessan Birmingham, the CEO of Intellia, both say the dispute hasn't affected their respective companies ability to sign deals and develop their companies' pipelines.
A verdict would probably force the biotechs on one side or the other to negotiate new licenses from the winning party, according to MIT Technology Review. That would cost money and could entail royalties for any future products that make it to market. Yet the biotechs on each side should be able to continue their march towards human testing of CRISPR.