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The exclusive licenses granted to three for-profit companies on key discoveries about the revolutionary genome-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 threaten to “bottleneck” its use “to discover and develop useful human therapeutics,” patent experts argued in a paper published on Thursday.

What the exclusive licenses have done “is give an entire industry to … companies that will never be able to fully exploit it,” Jorge Contreras of the University of Utah, a co-author of the paper in Science, said in an interview. “And that may hold back the development of therapies.”


Exclusive licenses are not unusual in biotech, nanotechnology, or other cutting-edge fields, Contreras said. “What leaped out at us was not the exclusivity per se but the fact that the licenses granted to Editas Medicine and Caribou Biosciences are for every gene in the human body and every gene known to humankind.”

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  • There is no doubt that patents on tools and methods–as opposed to the therapeutics obtained with them–are bad for innovation and should be seen as IP overreach. The courts have in the past agreed with that thinking when they nullified Pfizer’s patents on PDE5 (Viagra’s target), and the Whitehead/Harvard/MIT patents on NF-kappaB (Xigris’ target). It is not only that Editas, Caribou and Crispr Therapeutics cannot possibly address all the diseases that might be treated by gene editing. One can argue that even with the diseases that they choose to address, there is no guarantee that their therapeutics will be the best. The interest of society are best served by allowing companies to compete on the quality of their products, not by granting protected franchises that might limit patients’ choice to inferior options.

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