CRISPR Patent Trial: Round 1 Goes to MIT/Harvard’s Broad Institute

In our September 2016 issue, we discussed Genomic Editing and featured two of the key players–Editas Medicine and Intellia Therapeutics. In a November 20 blog post, we updated readers on the status of a court battle regarding CRISPR patents between the University of California and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. The University of California (where Jennifer Doudna is a professor) filed an interference motion to the courts claiming that the Broad Institute (led by professor Feng Zhang) interfered with their CRISPR patents. (Editas has ties with the Broad Institute and Intellia has ties to University of California at Berkeley.)

In early December, the judges heard arguments from both sides. The court’s decision came out on February 15th, and it appears that the Broad Institute and Editas emerged as the winner, as the court upheld their patent filings for CRISPR technology in eukaryotic cells and ruled that no interference occurred.

At stake, are perhaps billions of dollars in licensing fees. Any company, big pharma or small, that wants to develop treatments based on these techniques will likely have to answer first to Editas (though Intellia did retain some IP on simpler cell types such as bacteria).

Upon hearing the decision, Wall Street piled into Editas (ticker: EDIT) common stock, and it rose from $18.00 per share to $24.00 per share in one day.

But before you follow the herd, there are two important reasons to be particularly careful here:

  1. It will likely be 2018 or later before any drug protocol based on CRISPR technology makes it to clinical trial stage.
  2. The University of California will likely appeal the decision, thus prolonging the battle.

In Sickness and Wealth stated that we hoped the two would come to some sort of settlement, as both institutions are loaded with brilliant scientists. Clearly they can do more together than fighting each other, and still profit considerably. Either way, Editas and Intellia now have a sort of clarity on their patent structure; we will keep a close watch on both.

David Lerman & Jodie Warner

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