Inventing a nonsurgical way to zap away fat is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about the revolutionary genome-editing technique CRISPR, but maybe it should be.
A Boston dermatologist credited with developing the novel approach to fat loss is now the owner of a prized internet domain: crispr.com.
Though perhaps not as lucrative as the technology itself, the domain could have been advantageous for CRISPR-focused companies — Editas Medicine, CRISPR Therapeutics, Intellia — that might have seen a clever branding opportunity. But until recently, crispr.com had languished in the electronic ether for a decade, under the control of a cybersquatting computer engineer.
According to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit organization that coordinates domain names, however, CRISPR.com is now owned by Dr. Dieter Manstein.
The German-born dermatologist, who is affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital, is best known for inventing Coolsculpting, a “controlled cooling” way to remove body fat, and although he also does serious research on melanoma, he does not seem to be into genome-editing for, say, acne prevention.
Manstein did not reply to interview requests, but internet records show he is a prolific buyer of domain names, with 776 registered to his Gmail account. They include some related to his profession — laserskintreatments.net, lasertattoo.org, bodysculpting.com, and germanskincare.com, for example — and some not, such as iwantmyson.com.
No public records indicate what Manstein paid for crispr.com, but some domain names similar to crispr.com are currently going for up to five figures. An auction for crisprcas9.co (Cas9 is the enzyme used in the most common CRISPR system) starts at $2,000, with bids due May 8, while genecrispr.com and genomecrispr.com were both asking a shade under $40,000.
Experts doubt the domain name purchased by Manstein commanded anything close to this year’s priciest so far. 01.com, for instance, would have set you back $1,820,000, while Refi.com sold for $500,000 and Physician.com for $179,000.
Nikolay Kolev was the previous owner of CRISPR.com. Kolev, who on Twitter describes himself as a father, husband, software developer, Orthodox Christian, and Bulgarian in California, wasn’t prescient when he registered crispr.com in March 2006.
Rather, he credited the domain’s existence to the photo-sharing site Flickr, which was popular when he first registered CRISPR.com in 2006.
“I registered (or won it on an auction, I can’t recall) as a Flickr-like version of ‘crisper,’” he told STAT via Twitter. “Yes, Flickr was cool at the time.”
Like many domain name owners, Kolev didn’t build a website. He did not answer questions about whether he was approached by any of the biotech companies, and none of the likely suspects replied to questions from STAT as to whether they ever sought to purchase it.
Domain-name brokers, however, noticed that a transaction for crispr.com was in escrow as of March 31, meaning a buyer had deposited payment with a third party and was waiting for Kolev to transfer ownership. As of this month, according to ICANN, the new owner is Manstein.