UC Berkeley Granted Two CRISPR-Related Patents

The gene editing tool CRISPR allows scientists to remove a damaged part of DNA and replace it with a healthy one. (Ernesto del Aguila III/NHGRI)

The University of California will be receiving two CRISPR-related patents, marking another step forward in the university's long battle to assert its claims to the revolutionary technology.

UC Berkeley pioneered the technology in 2012, when a team led by biochemist Jennifer Doudna reported that they had successfully developed a “programmable” genome-editing tool that makes highly targeted alterations to the genome of a plant or animal. A team at the Broad Institute, owned jointly by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute, was also researching the technology during the same period.

Commonly known as CRISPR—an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, the groundbreaking technology offers a method to fix genes in living things. It could be used to develop everything from drought-resistant crops, to new treatments for genetic disorders and cancers.

UC Berkeley is in a legal fight with the Broad Institute over the patent rights to CRISPR. UC Berkeley filed its patent application before Broad did, but Broad fast-tracked its application.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office in February 2017 awarded a patent to Broad for CRISPR's use in plant and animal cells, and a pending patent to UC Berkeley for CRISPR's use in bacterial cells. The UC appealed in April 2017, arguing its scientists were the first inventors of the technology.

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The patent granted to UC Berkeley on Tuesday focuses on using the tool to edit single-stranded RNA, according to STAT News report. The federal agency will reportedly award a second patent next week. That patent, reports STAT, will focus on using the tool to edit regions specifically 10 to 15 base pairs long.

Some experts are downplaying the patents' significance.

According to New York Law School associate professor Jacob Sherkow, who spoke with STAT, the second patent will likely have “pretty minimal” commercial value.

The USPTO has so far granted more than 60 CRISPR-related patents to inventors from 18 organizations, according to the Broad Institute.

Meanwhile, news of the university's patent awards come as two new studies published on Monday caution that gene cells edited with CRISPR-Cas9 may be linked to cancer.

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