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News / 10.18.17

Removing a major CRISPR licensing roadblock in agriculture

iStock/stevanovicigor
Credit : iStock/stevanovicigor
By Issi Rozen, Chief Business Officer

The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard announced an agreement that removes a major roadblock that had threatened to limit the potential of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to dramatically advance agriculture.

Today the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard announced an agreement that removes a major roadblock that had threatened to limit the potential of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to dramatically advance agriculture.

As outlined in our press release, Broad and DuPont Pioneer have agreed to create a joint licensing framework for the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology in agriculture. Specifically, we’ve agreed to jointly provide non-exclusive licenses to intellectual property for use in commercial agricultural research and product development. Just as important, all of the intellectual property will be freely available for academic research. The goal is to ensure that scientists in both academia and industry will be able to use CRISPR-Cas9 technology to explore new ways to lift crop yields, improve drought resistance, and reduce reliance on pesticides.

What made this possible?

It worked because the two organizations that controlled the licensing of much of the foundational CRISPR-Cas9 intellectual property for use in agriculture decided to work together to make these tools available non-exclusively.

  • The Broad and its collaborators (including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York Genome Center, New York University, The Rockefeller University, and the University of Iowa) control one large collection of CRISPR-Cas9 IP. The Broad had already made this IP (i) freely available for all academic and non-profit research for all uses and (ii) available for non-exclusive licensing for commercial use in agriculture.
  • Pioneer has exclusive rights for use in agriculture to another set of CRISPR patents and patent applications. (Details for those who may be interested: The University of California-Berkeley (UCB) exclusively licensed its CRISPR patents and those of University of Vienna to UCB’s spin-off, Caribou Biosciences. In turn, Caribou licensed these rights for agriculture to Pioneer, together with rights in applications filed by Caribou. Pioneer also obtained an exclusive license to the companion rights of Emmanuelle Charpentier (that had been exclusively licensed to her spin-off, ERS Genomics) in the joint applications filed by the UCB. Separately, Pioneer licensed exclusive rights to issued patents and patent applications from Vilnius University in Lithuania, whose intellectual property overlaps that of UCB. Finally, Pioneer has its own patents and patent applications.)
  • To maximize the scientific impact of CRISPR-Cas9 for improving agriculture, it was important to ensure that agriculture companies had access to all of the genome editing tools covered under these patents and patent claims. Yet, they had no clear path to obtaining licenses to the exclusive portions of the IP.

When Pioneer approached the Broad about gaining access to Broad’s IP, the two organizations came up with a creative solution: (i) Broad would provide Pioneer with a non-exclusive license to Broad’s IP, and (ii) Pioneer would join Broad in providing non-exclusive licenses to the IP it controlled, as well as making the IP freely available to academic and non-profit researchers.

Notably, the joint license adheres to the Broad Institute’s ethical restrictions for agricultural use, which prohibit using CRISPR for gene drive, sterile seeds, or tobacco products for human use.

This resolves a licensing roadblock that had threatened to limit the potential of CRISPR-Cas9 in agriculture.

There remain, of course, roadblocks in other fields of CRISPR use.

For all commercial research, Broad offers licenses non-exclusively. However, not all IP-holders do so.

For use to develop human therapeutics, Broad decided to grant a license with exclusivity limited by an Inclusive Innovation model, because we judged that some exclusivity would be needed to incent the large investments needed to develop CRISPR technology to the point that it could be used to create medicines to benefit patients.

In July, Broad applied to join a worldwide patent pool, run by an independent third party, in an effort to help coordinate licenses with others.

Our hope is that more organizations will come together in meaningful ways to remove roadblocks and benefit the public.