University of California files appeal over CRISPR patents

(Reuters) - The University of California is appealing a U.S. patent ruling over the game-changing gene editing technology known as CRISPR that favored the Broad Institute, a research affiliate of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

FILE PHOTO: A DNA double helix is seen in an undated artist's illustration released by the National Human Genome Research Institute to Reuters on May 15, 2012. REUTERS/National Human Genome Research Institute/Handout/File Photo

The appeal filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was announced Thursday by the UC, the University of Vienna and handful of startup companies that have licensed its patents.

Microbiologists Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier of the University of Vienna were first to apply for patent in 2012 after discovering how the primitive bacterial system called CRISPR-Cas9 could be used to edit genomes in simple pieces of DNA called plasmids.

The system works like a pair of molecular scissors, cutting out and replacing specific parts of a cell’s DNA. Scientists hail CRISPR’s potential for treating genetic diseases, such as sickle-cell anemia.

A team at the Broad Institute led by bioengineer Feng Zhang applied for a separate patent six months later, but paid for a fast-track review process, which landed them the first CRISPR patent in 2014. The Broad’s patents were for showing that the CRISPR system could be used to edit more advanced, eukaryotic cells, including animal and human cells.

In its February decision, an appeals board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, determined that the Broad’s CRISPR patents “did not interfere” with those awarded to the UC because they were sufficiently different, allowing them to stand.

In the appeal, the UC is seeking a reversal of the decision, which ended before actually determining who invented the use of CRISPR in eukaryotic cells. Major commercial applications of CRISPR are expected to be in eukaryotic cells.

CRISPR Therapeutics Intellia Therapeutics and Caribou Biosciences are all parties to the appeal.

The Broad said in a statement it is confident the appeals court will affirm the ruling and “recognize the contribution of the Broad, MIT and Harvard in developing this transformative technology.”

UC, meanwhile, has already won a patent in the United Kingdom and the European Patent office is expected to award another by May 10.

Earlier this week, Harvard geneticist George Church said he expects the disputes will end in cross-licensing.

“I’m not that interested in the details of who pays who what. We’re all going to do very well, including the patients. That was evident from the very beginning,” he said.

Additional reporting by Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; editing by Anil D’Silva, Sriraj Kalluvila and G Crosse