Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

Crispr gene-editing innovators to open up access to their intellectual property

A kind of molecular scissors, Crispr allows scientists to precisely cut away flawed parts of genes.

A scientist loads Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA molecules into a fine glass pipette at a laboratory in Shenzhen. Opening up intellectual property access to other resarchers will hasten innovation in the field of gene editing. AP
A scientist loads Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA molecules into a fine glass pipette at a laboratory in Shenzhen. Opening up intellectual property access to other resarchers will hasten innovation in the field of gene editing. AP

Two important developers of the celebrated Crispr gene-editing technology said they will make it easier for researchers to licence their intellectual property, a move aimed at hastening innovation in the burgeoning field.

MilliporeSigma, the life-sciences tools division of German pharmaceutical giant Merck KGaA, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard said researchers will be able to get nonexclusive rights to patents held by both organisations for research purposes with a single license.

Companies will have to pay a licencing fee. Nonprofit and academic institutions will be permitted to license the patents for free, the organisations said in a news release on Thursday.

Crispr has become a widely heralded technology at a time when genetic therapies for a range of diseases are being developed. A kind of molecular scissors, Crispr allows scientists to precisely cut away flawed parts of genes. So far, commercial use of Crispr has been fairly limited, though several public companies are racing to develop human therapies based on the technology.

The Broad Institute is well-known for its pioneering work in using Crispr in human cells, and it holds several important US patents related to the technology. Merck KGaA holds patents on using Crispr for human-cell gene editing in the European Union, Canada, Australia and several other countries. And it has other patents in various countries extending the efficiency of the technology.

The goal of the agreement is to reduce potential confusion over which patents companies need to licence to pursue Crispr research, said Udit Batra, chief executive officer of MilliporeSigma. Pooling the organisations’ patents will make it easier for researchers and companies pursuing basic research to move ahead.

“We wanted to make sure the Crispr technology is available much more broadly to people, and that there are no barriers to researchers getting access to the technology,” Mr Batra said. “We decided to pool our patents.”

The deal is targeted at internal company research use and the research-tools field, said Issi Rozen, chief business officer for the Broad Institute. Companies that sell research tools based on Crispr, for example, generally want to be able to sell them globally, not just in the US, and would want to make sure that they had rights to do that in various countries.

“The idea is to simplify it for this field, to bring the key pieces together,” he said.

The patent-sharing framework doesn’t cover human therapeutic and diagnostic use of the technology. The Broad Institute has licensed certain exclusive rights for human therapeutic use of Crispr to Editas Medicine.

Mr Batra said that MilliporeSigma hasn’t yet licenced its Crispr intellectual property for human therapeutic use but is in talks with multiple parties on such a pact.

The patent-combining deal doesn’t include the University of California, Berkeley, whose scientists helped discover the Crispr gene-editing technology. Berkeley and its partner, the University of Vienna, have been fighting with the Broad Institute over who gets the credit for inventing the breakthrough technology.

Updated: July 18, 2019 07:20 PM

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