Merck KGaA has received a Notice of Intention to Grant from the European Patent Office that its CRISPR patent will cover genomic integration.

Everyone in biotech is gunning for a piece of the CRISPR pie, and German Merck will likely become the next company to acquire IP, adding to the pile it began building in 2012. Merck’s CRISPR patent, which the European Patent Office (EPO) has just signaled its intent to grant, will cover the use of the technology in “a genomic integration method for eukaryotic cells,” according to the statement.

This comes hours after the official publication of the results from the first embryo editing experiment in the US, headed by Shoukhrat Mitalipov at Oregon Health & Science University. (If you’ve been living under a rock, it was leaked last week.) His research group successfully replaced a gene that causes heart disease with a healthy one not only efficiently but also accurately, though the edited DNA wasn’t taken up by a single embryo in the experiment.

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As Richard Hynes, Professor of Cancer Research at MIT, told The New York Times, “We’ve always said in the past gene editing shouldn’t be done, mostly because it couldn’t be done safely. That’s still true, but now it looks like it’s going to be done safely soon… [It’s] a big breakthrough.” Merck KGaA may lead the charge on this side of the Atlantic.

Filed in May of this year, Merck’s patent application describes what it calls “proxy-CRISPR,” which improves the efficiency, flexibility, and specificity of the original technique by giving access to previously inaccessible cell locations. The pharma says explicitly that the method “can be used to replace a disease-associated mutation with a beneficial or functional sequence,” limiting its CRISPR patent to therapies and disease models while ruling out the introduction of vanity genes.

A horde of companies has been rushing into the CRISPR patent space, albeit for a broad range of comparatively narrow uses. Cellectis, for instance, just secured one for its CAR-T efforts. The battle for the original CRISPR patent is ongoing, though the EPO unsurprisingly ruled in favor of Emmanuelle Charpentier earlier this year after its American counterpart sided with Feng Zhang of The Broad Institute. For everyone missing the boat, there’s always licensing.


Images via nobeastsofierce, crystal light / shutterstock.com

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