France's Cellectis wins U.S patents for gene editing technology

PARIS (Reuters) - The United States has granted French cell therapy group Cellectis two patents to deploy a technology known as CRISPR in T cells, which play a key role in the immune response to cancer, the company said on Tuesday.

The patents come on the back of another granted last year by the European Patent Office. Cellectis said it intended to make the three patents available for future licensing deals.

The gene therapy sector has generated fierce patent disputes in recent months, as well as merger and acquisition activity.

“These inventions are based on the early work initiated by inventors at Cellectis when the CRISPR technology first came to light,” the company said.

CRISPR, an abbreviation of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, forms the basis of techniques known as CRISPR/Cas9 or Cpf1 that modify the structures of genes within living organisms.

In spite of the high cost and the fact there are few approved treatments so far, drugmakers are hoping gene editing will prove effective in tackling an array of diseases and become a lucrative market.

CRISPR/Cas9 works like a pair of molecular scissors that can selectively trim away unwanted parts of the genome, and replace it with new stretches of DNA.

U.S. scientists last year succeeded in altering the genes of a human embryo to correct a disease-causing mutation, making it possible to prevent the defect from being passed on to future generations.

In January, Celgene said it would pay $9 billion in cash to purchase experimental cancer drugmaker Juno Therapeutics, which has developed a T-cell therapy yet to be approved, while its rival Kite Pharma was bought by Gilead Sciences for nearly $12 billion last year.

Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Luke Baker