The U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board ruled today in favor of the Broad Institute in the high stakes battle over who will control the valuable intellectual property linked to CRISPR, the powerful genome-editing tool. The ruling came after the feature below, from the 16 February issue of Science, was prepared. The decision may be appealed by the University of California, however, and many other CRISPR-related patent applications have been filed by the companies and scientists trying to commercialize its discovery, so the business battle will no doubt continue.
In early 2012, Emmanuelle Charpentier, a little-known French microbiologist who would soon meet worldwide fame, contacted her old friend Rodger Novak to tell him about her recent studies at Umeå University in Sweden of the mechanisms behind a novel bacterial immune system. “She said, ‘Hey, what do you think about CRISPR?’” recalls Novak, a biotech executive who more than a decade earlier had worked with Charpentier in academic labs studying antibiotic resistance. “I had no clue what she was talking about.”
It was only later that Novak learned that Charpentier, in collaboration with a prominent structural biologist, Jennifer Doudna of the University of California (UC), Berkeley, had transformed the CRISPR immune system into a tool that could edit genomes with great ease. As they and colleagues noted in what has become a landmark Science paper, published online 28 June 2012, this tool had “considerable potential.”
That November, Novak, who by then had become a vice president at Sanofi in Paris, and another old friend, Shaun Foy, a venture capitalist in Vancouver, Canada, discussed CRISPR’s commercial potential during a surfing trip to the challenging, frigid waters off the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Neither had ever surfed, but they both liked adventures. So Foy’s assessment, which came a month later after he had done what he calls his “diligencing,” wasn’t surprising. “He said I had to leave my job,” Novak says.
[The patent fight] reminds me of reading about really unhappy rich people. They have such a big blank check that they just make each other miserable.