Marshall Lerner delivered a presentation to a group of undergraduate, doctoral and postdoctoral students in the Chemistry Department of Harvard University about the CRISPR patent litigation and the use of CRISPR in eukaryotic cells. Mr. Lerner did a presentation in 2018 when the litigation was in the Patent Office and a follow-up presentation on February 11, 2019, after the Patent Office decision was affirmed on appeal.
A CRISPR-Cas9 system is a combination of protein and ribonucleic acid (“RNA”) that can alter the genetic sequence of an organism. In their natural environment, CRISPR-Cas systems protect bacteria against infection by viruses. The CRISPR-Cas9 system is now being developed as a powerful tool to modify specific deoxyribonucleic acid (“DNA”) in the genomes of other organisms, from plants to animals. With CRISPR, scientists can create mouse models of human diseases much more quickly than before, study individual genes much faster, and easily change multiple genes in cells at once to study their interactions. It has been used in labs to correct for the mutation that causes sickle-cell anemia, create mosquitoes that can fight malaria in their bodies, and make crops more resistant to disease and drought.
The litigation was between the owner of the patent rights to the basic CRISPR technology, UC Berkeley, and the owners of the patent rights to the improvement of CRISPR to be used in eukaryotic cells, The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Mr. Lerner discussed the key issues in the litigation. The court ruled that UC Berkeley was entitled to the basic patent rights to the CRISPR technology and The Broad Institute was entitled to the patent rights on the improvement of CRISPR to be used in eukaryotic cells.
Mr. Lerner also discussed some of the bioethical issues pertaining to the use of CRISPR technology. Recently there have been some uses of the CRISPR technology particularly in China which raise significant bioethical issues. Mr. Lerner discussed these issues and some of the ultimate implications.