Team including UC Berkeley researcher awarded patent on CRISPR-Cas9 use in all cells amid pending appeal

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Lianne Frick/File

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On Tuesday, the Doudna-Charpentier team was awarded U.S. patent No. 10,000,772, giving it the intellectual rights to the use of CRISPR-Cas9 in developing human therapeutics and improving food security.

The patent is based on the enzyme system CRISPR-Cas9, which was discovered in 2012 by UC Berkeley researcher Jennifer Doudna and Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology researcher Emmanuelle Charpentier. CRISPR-Cas9 is a DNA-cutting enzyme that relies on an RNA molecule to tell the enzyme where to cut.

The Doudna-Charpentier team’s most recent patent granted — one of several CRISPR-related patents that the UC Board of Regents applied for — encompasses specific gene-editing formats that aid with healing of diseases such as muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia, Huntington’s disease and cancer, according to UC Berkeley spokesperson Jennifer Tong.

“Six years ago, the Doudna-Charpentier team was the first to file a patent application and publish on the necessary and sufficient components that enable CRISPR-Cas9 to be employed in all environments, including plant and animal cells,” said Edward Penhoet, special adviser to the chancellor at UC Berkeley, in a press release about the patent’s approval. “Their remarkable research has only accelerated since then, creating new jobs and opening up new possibilities to improve life.”

The research showed that CRISPR-Cas9 and RNA can be introduced into cells to manipulate their DNA. This would allow scientists to cure certain diseases and modify food by reprogramming the DNA.

Scientists are able to manipulate the cutting process by creating an RNA molecule that would pair to the DNA and control where the enzyme separates the DNA strand. When the DNA is separated, the cell uses natural repair mechanisms that can also be manipulated by researchers, resulting in a personalized DNA.

Additionally, CRISPR-Cas9 is a cheap, simple and efficient method of genetic modification, according to another UC Berkeley press release about the separate patenting of CRISPR-Cas9’s multiple applications. Aside from giving the researchers credit toward a scientific breakthrough, the patent rights could result in the acquisition of billions of dollars in licensing deals.

The patent issued Tuesday is not related to the regents’ appeal of the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s decision regarding the patent dispute between the Doudna-Charpentier team and the Broad Institute. Currently, the Broad Institute holds a patent for the implementation of CRISPR-Cas9 in eukaryotic cells and received an expedited patent, but the regents filed an appeal arguing that the Broad Institute’s patents interfere with their own patents on CRISPR-Cas9 use in all cells.

“I am convinced that this technology will solve important problems in clinical medicine, drug discovery and agriculture,” Doudna said in the press release on the appeal decision.

Contact Nathan Chin at [email protected].