CRISPR Patent Dispute Heats Up Again Today in U.S. Court of Appeals


All that is lacking from the likely drama surrounding patent battles over CRISPR technology in the U.S. Court of Appeals today is Michael Buffer’s cry of “Let’s get ready to rumble.”

Today representatives from some of the most prestigious research institutions in the United States, including the University of California at Berkeley and the Broad Institute of Technology, which includes Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will square off over the rights to the technology. Those rights will determine who profits off of the cutting edge scientific advancements in medical treatment. Today’s oral arguments are a continuation of a long-running litigation dispute over who owns the patents for genome-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9.  

"CRISPR" refers to Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats that occur in the genome of certain bacteria, from which the system was discovered. Cas9 is a CRISPR-associated endonuclease (an enzyme) known to act as the "molecular scissors" that cut and edit, or correct, disease-associated DNA in a cell. Gene therapy essentially transforms cells inside a patient to harness their immune system to fight an invading disease on its own. CRISPR-Cas9 is considered revolutionary technology, and as such is likely, at some level, to be used by many companies and institutions.

Initial work on CRISPR was done by UC Berkeley professor Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. The technology was first described by Doudna and Charpentier in the journal Science in 2012. However, Feng Zhang, a researcher at the MIT-Harvard Broad Institute, was the first to win a patent following his submission of laboratory notes to prove he was the first inventor. The University of California contested the patent in a 2015 lawsuit. Last year the U.S. Patent Office upheld the patent established by Zhang and the Broad Institute. In a ruling last year, the Patent judge said Zhang’s research into editing the genomes of mouse cells “would not have been obvious” based on the original work done by Doudna and Charpentier.

The University of California appealed that ruling and that has led to today’s showdown in a Washington, D.C. courtroom. With billions of dollars potentially hinging on the ruling, the University of California system wants to ensure its share. But, that may not be so easy to ensure. In an analysis of the pending arguments, STAT News reported there is unlikely to be any sort of “aha” moment when UC reveals any new information that has not been disclosed before in the courts. With a lack of new information, attorneys for the University of California system will have to persuade the Appellate Court judges that the patent court “ignored evidence” presented during the previous litigious round. That tack could be difficult to prove given the patent board’s decision, STATs analysts said.

The ruling from the Court of Appeals could likely impact potential revenues for several companies that licensed the CRISPR technology from the University of California, including Intellia Therapeutics and Swiss-based CRISPR Therapeutics. In turn, Broad has licensed the technology to Cambridge, Mass.-based Editas Medicine for therapeutic applications and provided non-exclusive licenses for other CRISPR applications to GE Healthcare, Monsanto and Evotec.

This morning shares of Intellia are up less than 1 percent to $20.79. Shares of CRISPR Therapeutics are down less than 2 percent to $48.13. Shares of Editas Medicine are also slightly down this morning to $32.60.

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