Harvard, MIT research institute holds on to gene-editing patent rights

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By Brendan Pierson

<span class="articleLocation”>The Broad Institute, a biological and genomic
research center affiliated with MIT and Harvard, will keep
valuable patents on a revolutionary gene-editing technology
known as CRISPR, a U.S. patent agency ruled on Wednesday.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and
Appeal Board in Alexandria, Virginia, rejected a claim by a
rival team, associated with the University of California at
Berkeley and University of Vienna in Austria, that they invented
the technology first.

The patent rights could be worth billions of dollars, as the
technology could revolutionize treatment of genetic diseases,
crop engineering and other areas.

Shares of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Editas Medicine Inc
, a biotechnology firm that licenses CRISPR-related
intellectual property from Broad, closed nearly 29 percent
higher. Shares of Intellia Therapeutics Inc, which has
a licensing deal with the University of California, fell 9.2
percent.

Intellia said in a statement that it would work on legal
strategy with the University of California, but that it was too
early to comment on the next steps.

The University of California said on a conference call with
reporters on Wednesday that it expected its own pending CRISPR
patent application to be granted, and that the application
covered a broader use of CRISPR than Broad’s patents.

“At this moment, people will likely have to work with both
institutions,” Paul Alivisatos, UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor
for research, said on the call.

Lynn Pasahow, an attorney for the university, said his
client had not decided whether to appeal.

Broad said it agreed with the decision, and Editas Chief
Executive Katrine Bosley said the company was pleased.

CRISPR works as a type of molecular scissors that can trim
away unwanted pieces of genetic material, and replace them with
new ones. Easier to use than older techniques, it has quickly
become the preferred method of gene editing in research labs.

In 2012, a research team led by Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna
and Vienna’s Emmanuelle Charpentier was first to apply for a
CRISPR patent.

A team at Broad, led by MIT’s Feng Zhang, applied for a
patent months later, opting for a fast-track review process. It
became the first to obtain a CRISPR patent in 2014, and has
since obtained additional patents.

In April 2015, Berkeley petitioned the patent agency to
launch a so-called interference proceeding, claiming the Broad
patents covered the same invention as its earlier application.

Broad countered that its patent represented the real
breakthrough because it described the use of CRISPR in so-called
eukaryotic cells, which include plant and animal cells, for the
first time.

The patent board’s decision on Wednesday said there was “no
interference in fact” between Berkeley’s application and Broad’s
patents, meaning Berkeley’s application can be granted. However,
major commercial applications of CRISPR are likely to be in
eukaryotic cells.

In addition to Editas – which was co-founded by Zhang and
Doudna, who has since left the company – Broad has licensed its
CRISPR technology to Monsanto Co and General Electric
Co’s medical technology subsidiary GE Healthcare. (additional reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago)



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