T

he purported inventors of a hyperbolically promising approach to gene editing are fighting over just who came up with it first. And while it’s anyone’s guess who will prevail, looking at business deals provides a glimpse at how other companies think things might shake out.

By that measure, the Broad Institute has just notched a minor victory.

Evotec, a German company that handles pharmaceutical development for pharma and biotech, paid an undisclosed sum to borrow the Broad’s CRISPR technology for drug discovery. The deal itself is hardly earth-shattering, but it’s a vote of confidence in the Broad in the midst of an ugly patent fight.

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That fight is about who came up with CRISPR first, the Broad’s Feng Zhang or a team of Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, then of Umeå University in Sweden.

Each of those three scientists has backed a biotech company. And each has made deals to license CRISPR to other players. Doudna’s team has done deals with DuPont, Novartis, and an animal genetics company called Genus. Charpentier’s crew works with Bayer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and Horizon Discovery. For its part, the Broad has signed deals with GE Healthcare, Transposagen, and others, now including Evotec.

The outcome of the CRISPR fight is tough to predict — and oral arguments aren’t slated to begin until November — but Evotec, at least, is betting on Zhang.

That, or the Broad was cheaper.

CRISPR is a tool that acts as a microscopic pair of scissors with the ability to slice DNA. Dom Smith/STAT

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