The Broad Institute has been dealt a big blow in its battle for CRISPR/Cas9 intellectual property, with the European Patent Office revoking one of its patents.

CRISPR/Cas9 has been hailed as the ‘scientific discovery of the century’ due to its capacity to modify the genome for the treatment of genetic diseases. The Broad Institute, set up by MIT and Harvard in 2004 to use genomics to improve human health, successfully obtained a patent from the US Patent Office for its use in eukaryotes. However, the European Patent Office (EPO) has revoked the first of several patents obtained by the Broad Institute, citing a clear lack of novelty.

This will be particularly good news for ERS Genomics, which was co-founded by one of the inventors of CRISPR/Cas9, Emmanuelle Charpentier, to provide access to the technology’s intellectual property. ERS’s exclusive worldwide patent for the intellectual property differs from that of the Broad Institute as it covers the use of CRISPR/Cas9 to edit the genome of an organism, but not for therapeutic use in humans.

The Broad Institute‘s patent was opposed by many for a variety of reasons, including the lack of novel findings due to the presence of several predating publications. It is expected to appeal the decision, claiming that the EPO should change its procedures to meet the terms of the Paris convention. However, ERS CEO Eric Rhodes slammed the idea, saying: “Any such change as expected by the Broad would require a change in the law itself… The vast majority of the Broad Institute’s CRISPR patents in Europe are also affected by this same deficiency and we expect them to meet a similar fate.”

The mechanism of CRISPR/Cas9 technology.

Despite once again being snubbed by the Nobel Prize Committee, CRISPR is widely expected to make a big difference to medicine and, one day, take home the award. It uses short guide RNA molecules in combination with the bacterial enzyme Cas9 to alter the genome at specific sites. At these sites, sections of DNA can be deleted, inserted or replaced to alter the expression of an existing gene or trigger the expression of another.

With the huge potential of CRISPR/Cas9 technology, it makes sense to ensure that the technology remains accessible for biotechs in Europe and around the world for the development of therapeutics against devastating diseases. CRISPR Therapeutics and Vertex Pharmaceuticals are hoping to start a first European trial using the technology for the treatment of the blood disorder, β-thalassemia. Meanwhile, the technique has been used in the lab to enhance the cancer-killing power of T cells and identify new targets for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia.


Images – Meletios Verras / shutterstock.com; Soleil Nordic / shutterstock.com

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