CRISPR is a powerful gene-editing tool acclaimed to be the biggest breakthrough in biotech since well, the start of biotech. Unlike its gene-editing predecessors, it is able to essentially cut and paste sequences to targeted loci with relative ease by simply synthesizing the corresponding guide RNA. The discovery seems to show limitless possibilities with its implications for genome engineering, disease models and gene therapy.
Western has already made progress in affecting efficacy and possibly off-target effects in CRISPR/Cas9 as David Edgell and his team of researchers have published a paper last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on the addition of I-TevI to Cas9. Other progress in HIV immunity and muscular dystrophy have been made however no “CRISPR drug” exists yet.
With the promising future of CRISPR, control over the technology could be worth billions. Startups have already invested millions into developing CRISPR into cures including Editas Medicine and Intellia Therapeutics, associated to Feng Zhang of MIT-Harvard Broad institute and Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley respectively. Zhang and Doudna are currently in a fierce and complex legal battle for patent rights on the commercialization of CRISPR. Until a decision is made, commercialization of CRISPR has come to a halt.
The legal case of CRISPR is just another example of problems within the current licensing system of medical technologies. As the future of one of the greatest discoveries of mankind hangs in the balance of a legal tug-o’-war, it is a reminder of the importance of UAEM’s mission to reform university patenting and licensing policy to enable access and innovation of essential medicines and technologies.
For more readings:
MIT Technology Review: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/532796/who-owns-the-biggest-biotech-discovery-of-the-century/
KQED Science: https://ww2.kqed.org/futureofyou/2016/12/08/billions-at-stake-uc-berkeley-gets-day-in-court-vs-harvardmit/
Bloomberg Businessweek: https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-how-crispr-will-change-the-world/
Written by: Soojie Hong
Soojie is currently in her third year of undergraduate studies at Western University and serves as UAEM Western's Finance Leader.