2 Women Won The Nobel For CRISPR, But The Battle For Its Patent Rages On

from Fast Company

This week Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing a process to edit DNA known as CRISPR Cas-9. But the announcement, which comes amid a years-long battle over who owns the methodology to make genomic edits, is bittersweet.

CRISPR Cas-9 is based on an immune system response in bacteria that literally cuts out invaders. In the last decade scientists, including Doudna and Charpentier, have figured out a way to repurpose the same function to edit out undesirable genetic mutations. The discovery has sparked a lot of hand-wringing over how the technology will evolve and the ethics of using such a tool to create perfect humans.

Doudna and Charpentier met at a conference in 2011 when Charpentier, an expert in bacterial systems who had published on CRISPR, was working at Umea University in Sweden. Doudna was a biologist at the University of California at Berkeley with a budding interest in the system. In their first year working together, they published a paper laying out how to use CRISPR Cas-9 to make changes to DNA. Doudna went on to publish a paper in 2013 using the same technique to make gene edits in animal cells. But Feng Zhang, a scientist at the Broad Institute, MIT’s genomic research center, had published a similar paper four weeks earlier, making him the first to prove the tool could be used in human cells. This was the beginning of what has become a years-long legal battle over who owns the CRISPR Cas-9 editing system.

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9 Comments

  1. By far my favorite movie of all time, along with my favorite series as well, has to be the Jurassic Park movies and extended universe. While the first two had exceptional writing and comprehensive views on how humanity handles science like a hot potato, the longer the series went on the more action filled it got. This was not necessarily a bad change, it just meant that the deep philosophies of the book and first two movies were supplanted by something also enjoyable in its own way. The reason why I bring this up after reading an article about two Noble prize winning scientists is what their reason for winning the illustrious accolade was, that being CRISPR. I have been following any mentions of this exciting new technology for quite some time, as the inner child in me, curious for what this cold mean, was excited for the massive leaps in genetic engineering that were sure to follow. What got me especially excited was a study by Jack Horner suggesting that CRISPR could be a possibility in reviving the dreams of a real Jurassic Park in the distant future. He pointed to things like the frozen woolly mammoths found in locations like Siberia, where the DNA possesses the possibility of extraction for a procedure such as this. But by far the most fascinating aspect of the whole article was his insistence that a close genetic relative of the dinosaurs, such as any bird species, could have the DNA undergo “reverse evolution” and revert back into a completely different cellular type altogether. The point is that my love for my favorite science fiction franchise led me into researching a field of science that, up until I read this article, I had almost completely forgotten about. So hearing the other side, so to speak, of the people who were able to give CRISPR the attention and study that it needs made for an intriguing read. What made it even more interesting is how the apparent heritage of this discovery is in contention right now, as the two women were apparently beaten to the punch by a whole different person about four weeks earlier than they did. I do not really care for that part of the article, as I just want the scientists to get over their differences and just create genetic monstrosities already.

  2. In my opinion I would say this Nobel Prize could be categorized as bitter-sweet. The age old practice of pushing men to the top of science (and everything else in the world) and women to the bottom infuriates me. It is definitely nice to see that two women were awarded the Nobel Prize and how their work was recognized despite male interference. On the other hand, I do not agree with the type of technology they won the prize for, as I feel it is unethical. I am going to focus on the female-male relationship in science first as I feel it is a more pressing issue. Even if you are living under a rock, everybody has heard the surge around the world for social justice during the pandemic. While some people (mostly the oppressors/people who benefit from oppression) say people are being overdramatic and back in the old days people did not care, there needs to be justice for all people before the world can continue to progress. It is proven that diverse groups are needed in all ways in order for people to work at their maximum efficiency. To discriminate against and put down a certain group is against the very idea of science. This issue effects all fields of life whether its professional, political, or personal, but right now we are talking about science. I am glad that Doudna and Carpentier received the Nobel Prize they deserved. The problem with this is that I think about the number of times where justice was not served for the female scientists. I am not trying to generalize people, but I feel like women excelled in science in K-12 school much more than men. But for some reason in the professional field, only 9 females have won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. While there are notable female scientists, the fact that the few females who made it are celebrated so many shows how rare it is for someone who is female to reach success in a field. People who are talented are supposed to be the ones that get success, and if you think that is the case for the world then you are on the side of the oppressor.

  3. (CRISPR-Cas 9) Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats is a biological mechanism used to edit DNA genes. CRISPR is DNA sequence found in genomes which is used to detect and destroy DNA from similar bacteria during ensuing infections. It plays a key role in the immune systems defense response communicating resistance to foreign elements, thus eliminates pathogens by preventing their growth. The Nobel prize in chemistry was awarded to both Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for developing CRISPR Cas-9, a DNA editing process. Their award announcement was enveloped behind the ongoing legal battle over who owns the true methodology to make these DNA edits. This experience makes their prestigious Nobel prize awards bittersweet. Not only does this technology come with a lot of controversy due to the ethical issues and concerns, but the rightful owner of the patent for the technology is unknown. CRISPR’s capabilities of editing out undesirable genetic mutations may one day lead to unethical practices of creating the “perfect human.” In 2011, Emmanuelle Charpentier, a biologist at Umea University in Sweden, met Jennifer Doudna, a biologist from the University of California at Berkley, at a conference and began to work together on CRISPR through experiments. The biologists ending up publishing their findings of CRISPR’s ability to make DNA changes. Moreover in 2013, Doudna published an additional paper using the same technology in animal cells. Unbeknownst to Doudna, a scientist, Feng Zhang at MIT’s genomic research center, published a similar paper four weeks prior, which made him first to prove the tool useful in human cells. Although the University of California at Berkley and the University of Vienna were first to file for a patent for CRISPR, MIT’s genomic research center paid to fast track their patent which led to them being awarded the patent in 2014. The University of California at Berkley submitted an interference claim with the Patent Trial and Appeals Board which would determine which party invented the technology. This led to a public argument of how this game changing discovery came to be. The argument debated if Doudna’s and Charpentier’s method would work in human cells. While litigation put the rightful inventor in limbo, the MIT’s President and founding director, Eric Lander, published an article in a scientific journal which was extremely controversial. His article focused on MIT’s genomic research centers scientist, Fang Zheng as the hero who discovered CRISPR Cas-9. Several scientists refuted his article for inaccuracy stating “it was an example of how powerful people can write history about science for the potential of profit.” In the end, Nobel choice of Doudna and Charpentier refuted the MIT’s science journal which illustrated that science prevailed over politics in this case.

  4. The awarding of the Nobel prize to Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for their contributions to CRISPR Cas-9 has brought to light several conflicts: one of ownership, and the other of genetic ethicality. CRISPR allows for the modification of genetic material. CRISPR Cas-9 is “based on an immune system response in bacteria that literally cuts out invaders” this technology has the capability to alter human DNA which has very alarming potential to eventually create the perfect human. CRISPR technology has been documented and published for years before the infamous Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier publication and thus, the true “ownership” of the technology is unclear which makes the awarding of the Nobel prize to only two scientists a little questionable. The idea of owning a scientific idea legally is also debated.

    Although those who make a scientific discovery should be credited, the idea of owning a concept, especially a scientific one which relies upon the work of others, is a blurred line as well. Eastern cultures often do not acknowledge plagiarism because one is expected to work upon and expand upon the ideas of others since ideas and concepts do not belong to one person. I believe the same concept can be applied to science, since science discovers and develops the truths of the universe, how can one person own them? One person owning CRISPR technology is problematic not only because the idea had been built upon many different people, but also because the ability of one person or corporation to patent this technology and use it for profit is worrisome for the morality of this highly complex and powerful technology that can literally edit human DNA. Leaving the ownership up to the scientific community to work with it and alter it to become better leaves it in the hands of a community of professionals.

  5. The heated battle over the intellectual property rights to CRISPR Cas-9 shows how cutting-edge and economically powerful this discovery is. The ability to alter genes has long been a battle of morality, but as society moves closer to this becoming a reality, scientists are pushing to obtain the rights to this discovery in hopes of profiting off it in the future. The scientists who discovered this should receive the credit they deserve and be able to profit off their discovery, however, they should not own the sole rights to the use of their process. A scientific breakthrough like this is potentially life changing, hording the rights to use this research would be detrimental to society. With a breakthrough as life changing as the potential to create superhumans immune to diseases and disorders, it would be irresponsible to let one group horde this technology for only their own use and profit. As the article states, Michael Eisen, a biologist at U.C. Berkeley, stated “The most worrying trend has been the willingness of some researchers and research institutions to distort history, demean their colleagues, and misrepresent the scientific process to support these efforts.” This legal battle is bringing to light the possibility of finding other, less controversial, gene-editing enzymes, that could be even better than Cas-9. With scientists searching for similar, yet not infringing on CRISPR Cas-9 IP rights, gene editing enzymes, there is a new avenue of scientific research being fully opened to the public. This is now a topic at the forefront of the scientific community, and will, as a result, create a new game-changing market. Gene editing, in time, will become a normal procedure, just like anything new; it will take time for society to fully embrace it.

  6. Patent Law can be an unruly jurisdiction to work in considering the legal battles that can last for long periods of time. In this case involving a set of scientists versus a for-profit research company the stakes are more dire than who gets the profit of the intellectual property, it involves the advancement of a field of science as a whole. I believe that researchers should of course be promoted and celebrated for their achievements and findings; however, in this case the patent has only disturbed scientific process. The winners of the Nobel Peace Prize: Jennifer Donova and Emmanuelle Charpentier are certainly entitled to compensation of some kind under the USPTO, however the amount of debate over the actual research of CRISPR Cas-9 has gone too far. The article brings up that there are several things happening in the background: a battle for the patent still rages through the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, famous articles have been published (each of which have their own descriptor of who is the real developer of the scientific breakthrough), and discourse over the Nobel Peace Prize is happening. This is the background for what CRISPR Cas-9 has created and the tumultuous discussion around it all has caused scientists to not want to (and sometimes be unable to) work further on the CRISPR research. Monetization of such a scientific breakthrough has slowed down its development and narrowed its ability to succeed immensely. Investors for research have stepped down to avoid stepping on any IP toes. As well, scientists outside of the main groups battling for control of the patent live in fear of working on Cas-9 because they may be infringing on legal ownership. Patent and intellectual property laws are important, but only so much as they make our system a more structured and organized place. Infighting within the scientific community does not make for a good reason to place such high importance on scientific patents – especially ones as game changing as DNA CRISPR. When a find and topic like this that could affect the entire world comes out, it is only burdened by our legal systems.

  7. It does not come as a surprise to me that there is a feud over something so accomplishing for humanity. Breakthroughs like this could save millions of lives, but then again, that might not make the most money. The author, Ruth Reader, gave enough detail for someone to see that business and politics is getting in the way of science and the well-being of society—she even summarizes it in one word: “nasty”. The cutthroat world of today will not allow for a discovery like this to go down without glory and publicity that will lead to litigation and money. I think it is ridiculous that some may see money and recognition as more important than spreading some information that could potentially save lives. Hopefully the use of the CRISPR Cas-9 and similar discoveries can be implemented to genetically alter those who need it.

    A Nobel prize is something serious in today’s world, and it surely is not going to be given to someone who does not deserve it. Jennifer Doudna and Emmaneulle Charpentier certainly deserve it for their hard work and years of dedication to get the information they have obtained, but this does not mean someone else who did the exact thing during the same time deserves it less. On top of this it does not mean only one of those parties should get the patent for the genetic method and not the other. Only giving the patent to one party in this scenario will create fire for the feud, but in very few instances would both parties settle for collaborating and combining so all is included in ownership. With this being said, there does not seem to be a scenario where a discovery like this (with multiple parties successful) will be able to rest until the money and fame is sorted out. This can definitely cause delays in other scientific breakthroughs as other scientists will have to tread carefully for fear of stepping onto territory of the patent(s). On the bright side, though, it reassures scientists that there is still much more work to be done and more discoveries to be made. As Reader put it, “eventually this avenue of research will push gene editing far beyond what CRISPR Cas-9 is capable of”.

  8. This article discusses CRISPR and the two women who were recognized and awarded for its creation. CRISPR Cas-9 is a newly discovered process of editing DNA. Inspired by the immune system’s response to invaders, CRISPR was designed with the hopes of being used to weed out unwanted genetic mutations within human beings to make a better breed of people. According to the article, “CRISPR is based on an immune system response in bacteria that literally cuts out invaders. In the last decade scientists, including Doudna and Charpentier, have figured out a way to repurpose the same function to edit out undesirable genetic mutations”. Naturally, a huge discovery like this has shaken the world of science. Scientists all around the world are growing more and more curious about this breakthrough, trying to figure out how this process can be perfected for more effective use, as well as its ethical terms of use. For bringing such a tremendous breakthrough to light, researchers Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This was especially a big deal since it isn’t often that we see women receiving this award, as their own efforts are often overshadowed by a man’s efforts with the same topics. There is some controversy over this “discovery” however, as the article states that Feng Zhang, a scientist at the Broad Institute, was also making big discoveries about CRISPR well before the two women presented their work to the public. This has caused a quite a stir, as it can be argued that either side is truly responsible for this scientific breakthrough.

    As tremendous as this discovery is, it does have its fair share of drawbacks. The article specifically mentions the litigation issues associated with CRISPR Cas-9, and how many scientists are uncertain of what should be done with it as a result. Not only that, but investors are wary about incorporating CRISPR in their biotechnology to avoid infringing on existing CRISPR patents. This is why scientists believe that CRISPR should be a public project that allows scientists to innovate on its uses without fear of litigation. The article states this… “Some scientists feel that with so much public money involved in discoveries such as the ones around CRISPR Cas-9, no one should have a right to the intellectual property. This would keep the science open and allow others to innovate on top of it without the fear of litigation or the sometimes high costs of royalties”. Luckily, this litigation hasn’t completely daunted people from exploring the capabilities of CRISPR… after all, CRISPR is capable of getting rid of any undesired genetic mutation within any human. However, another issue lies with its precision, as it seems to be lacking more of it than what scientists hoped for. Some are researching ways to create more efficient alternatives, using CRISPR data as reference and refining it to be more reliable ad precise. Regardless, most researchers agree that CRISPR is a game-changing scientific breakthrough, despite being in its “rough draft” phase.

    I believe that both Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier should be proud of their research, and the same goes for all the other scientists who worked hard to understand CRISPR before these researchers brought it to light. CRISPR really does seem like it can make a big impact in the future with some refined touches. It’s always good to remove any and all uncertainty before implementing a plan of action. Regardless, CRISPR-Cas 9 seems very capable of doing great things in the future. I look forward to seeing just how well researchers do with refining this process to make it more consistent and effective.

  9. This Nobel Prize could be categorized as bitter-sweet for developing CRISPR Cas-9, a DNA editing process. Their award announcement was sealed on the ongoing legal battle over who owns the true methodology. In order to make these DNA edits. This experience makes their very important Nobel prize awards bittersweet. The article mentions the issues associated with CRISPR Cas-9, and how many scientists are uncertain of what can be done with it. Investors are scared about incorporating CRISPR in their biotechnology to avoid infringing on existing CRISPR patents. A Nobel prize is definitely an important honor in today’s world. This prize isn’t just given to someone who does not deserve it. Emmaneulle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna deserve it for their hard work and years of determination to get the information they have obtained. However this does not mean others who did the exact same research during the same time deserve it less. While many people say others are being overdramatic for giving out an award there needs to be justice for all people in order for the world to progress. It is even proven that diverse groups are needed in all ways in order for people to work at their maximum efficiency. To discriminate against and put down a certain group will stop the growth of the world.

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