molecular scissors CRISPR cas9

The patent feud continues over CRISPR in the U.S., but over in France biotech Cellectis has made a claim to the technology in Europe sparking a new kind of debate.

The news hit the headlines after Cellectis announced that the European Patent Office had granted them a patent to use CRISPR in T cells. The patent which will be issued in August and valid up until 2034, will further their efforts to prepare the immune system against cancer.

Other companies, including Novartis, Juno, and Kite, use CAR-T cells just like Cellectis, but instead they are developing universal CAR-T cell lines that can be widely used. They have seen success with this approach already, treating two infants with leukemia.

In a bid to improve their CAR-T cells, Cellectis needs CRISPR. They plan to use the gene editing technology to screen for genes that can be knocked out. This could include genes encoding checkpoint inhibitors, molecules that guard against excessive inflammation by weakening the activity of immune cells. Removing the shackles from the cells may unleash their full therapeutic potential.

According to chairman and CEO of Cellectis, Andrew Choulika they don’t plan to give patients CRISPR-modified cells anytime soon. He states that TALEN, an older gene-editing technology, is more precise and works as a better therapeutic use. They plan to temporarily use CRISPR as a quick and dirty way to identify genes during the initial research stages.

Jacob Sherkow, professor at New York Law School, believes that the patent is a huge turning point in the world of gene editing and cancer immunotherapy. However, he does see ways that companies could work around the patent. He continued to explain that the patent applies to CRISPR in cells where the gene editing components are expressed in the T-cells. If a company can deliver the already-expressed CRISPR components to cells, Sherkow believes, that may fall outside the patent’s claims.

Although Cellectis has submitted a similar application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Choulika believes the patent’s approval in Europe bodes well for its approval in the U.S., but Sherkow has his concerns. He believes that the patent will most definitely be challenged, especially after Berkeley’s European CRISPR patent is already being challenged by at least six groups.