Sunday, April 20, 2014

"The reason universities patent basic research tools is to provide the incentive to develop it"

Within the post Broad Institute Gets Patent on Revolutionary Gene-Editing Method, Susan Young Rojahn gets into some patent issues associated with Feng Zhang's CRISPR patent which issued on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 [US Patent 8,697,359].

* The invention is described in the text:

The patent, issued just six months after its application was filed, covers a modified version of the CRISPR-Cas9 system found naturally in bacteria, which microbes use to defend themselves against viruses. The patent also covers methods for designing and using CRISPR’s molecular components.

* There is mention of a pending patent application to Jennifer Doudna, who along with Zhang, is a co-founder of Editas.
The "background" section of Doudna's published US 20140068797 mentions:

[0004] About 60% of bacteria and 90% of archaea possess CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) system systems to confer resistance to foreign DNA elements. Type II CRISPR system from Streptococcus pyogenes involves only a single gene encoding the Cas9 protein and two RNAs--a mature CRISPR RNA (crRNA) and a partially complementary trans-acting RNA (tracrRNA)--which are necessary and sufficient for RNA-guided silencing of foreign DNAs.

[0005] In recent years, engineered nuclease enzymes designed to target specific DNA sequences have attracted considerable attention as powerful tools for the genetic manipulation of cells and whole organisms, allowing targeted gene deletion, replacement and repair, as well as the insertion of exogenous sequences (transgenes) into the genome. Two major technologies for engineering site-specific DNA nucleases have emerged, both of which are based on the construction of chimeric endonuclease enzymes in which a sequence non-specific DNA endonuclease domain is fused to an engineered DNA binding domain. However, targeting each new genomic locus requires the design of a novel nuclease enzyme, making these approaches both time consuming and costly. In addition, both technologies suffer from limited precision, which can lead to unpredictable off-target effects.

[0006] The systematic interrogation of genomes and genetic reprogramming of cells involves targeting sets of genes for expression or repression. Currently the most common approach for targeting arbitrary genes for regulation is to use RNA interference (RNAi). This approach has limitations. For example, RNAi can exhibit significant off-target effects and toxicity.

[0007] There is need in the field for a technology that allows precise targeting of nuclease activity (or other protein activities) to distinct locations within a target DNA in a manner that does not require the design of a new protein for each new target sequence. In addition, there is a need in the art for methods of controlling gene expression with minimal off-target effects.

* Rojahn's article talks of the need for patents by universities:

The reason universities patent basic research tools is to provide the incentive to develop it, says Nelsen. Transforming such a technology into a medical treatment is an immensely expensive process, she says. “If you didn’t patent, that wouldn’t get done,” says Lita Nelsen [director of the MIT Technology Licensing Office ].

MIT does not go after academic scientists who produce lab-made versions of the molecular components for the gene-silencing technology, she says. If the Broad technology licensing office follows that example, then the new patents should not affect academics wanting to use the tool for basic research, says Nelsen. That would be good news, because CRISPR is thought to be a huge boon for biological science. For now, however, the Broad is keeping a tight lid on their plans for the patent.


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