- In the midst of a high-profile patent battle, Editas Medicine has inked licensing agreements with a group of research institutions for rights to a new CRISPR genome editing system known as Cpf1.
- The licensing deals, signed with the Broad Institute and five universities, also cover more advanced forms of Cas9 — the cutting, or "molecular scissors", part of the promising technology.
- The Broad Institute holds the patents to the foundational CRISPR intellectual property, but is currently embroiled in costly litigation with the University of California (UC), which argues its researchers deserve the patents instead.
Editas isn't holding its breath for the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) to rule in favor of the Broad. The new agreement appears to bolster Editas' IP position, giving it access to a technology which could be an alternative to Cas9.
The Cpf1 protein can edit more sites in the genome than Cas9 while also increasing the efficiency and accuracy of certain types of gene repair, Editas claims. Researchers at the Broad Institute, including Feng Zhang, described the potential of the Cpf1 protein in a September 2015 paper in the journal Cell.
Editas will license exclusive rights to Cpf1 from the Broad, Harvard University, MIT, Wageningen University, the University of Iowa and the University of Tokyo, paying $6.25 million in upfront money. The company will also issue a promissory note for $10 million which can be settled in cash or stock.
While Editas draws on IP from the Broad, rivals Intellia Therapeutics and CRISPR Therapeutics license from UC, splitting the emergent CRISPR biotech scene in two.
Just last week, Intellia and CRISPR joined with two other biotechs to forge an IP alliance aimed at coordinating the defense and enforcement of patents owned by UC and other parties.
Both Editas' new agreements and the alliance appear to be a hedge against an unfavorable ruling from the PTAB, which heard oral arguments in the case earlier this month. Questioning from the three-judge panel appeared to favor the Broad, but a ruling likely won't come until sometime next year.
Even with a simmering patent dispute, all three CRISPR biotechs have moved quickly to ink collaboration deals and move their work toward the clinic. A ruling from the PTAB will determine who pays whom, but the trio appear to making preparations to ensure work will continue regardless.