Oxford Genetics: CRISPR patent war casts shadow over use in cell line development

CRISPR engineered mammalian cell lines are more cost effective than other gene editing platforms says Oxford Genetics, but adopting such tech is perceived a risk due to ongoing patent issues.

Oxford, UK-based synthetic biology firm Oxford Genetics has inked a multi-billion-dollar deal with an undisclosed ecommerce provider of reagents and tools for its high throughput automated genomic engineering platform for CRISPR modification of mammalian cell lines.

While details are undisclosed, the deal shows how the firm has harnessed the gene-editing technology CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) to move away from manual processing in favor of automated and scalable platforms.

“Only Oxford Genetics has the capacity to cope with the demand of this project and that is due to our investment in automation, which in turn makes it scalable,” Paul Brooks, chief commercial officer, told BioProcess Insider.

Perceived patent risk

“This is a sizeable deal for a service,” he continued, but added the potential of licensing Oxford Genetics’ technologies to biopharma and biotech for the purposes of bioproduction “is far greater as a total.”

According to Brooks, using CRISPR to engineer mammalian cell lines brings several benefits over other technologies, the biggest being the price point. “Compared to ZFNs [zinc-finger nucleases] and Talens, the price of CRISPR reagents is much more cost effective.”

However, there remains a perceived risk among biomanufacturers in adopting the technology for now “since there is still so much uncertainty surrounding ownership of the foundational patents.”

There are ongoing legal issues as to who owns the rights to the gene-editing tech between the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), and the Broad Institute of MIT.

In February 2017, the US Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) ruled that the Broad Institute’s 2014 CRISPR patent on using CRISPR-Cas9 to edit genomes did not interfere with a patent application by UCB, but UC has since appealed.

The Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in the appeal on April 30 2018, and a ruling is expected later this year. Following this, the Broad institute issued the following:

“As this patent issue is resolved, and as new patents related to important uses of CRISPR are issued to the many institutions, including UCB, we call on UCB and the companies that control its IP to join our ongoing efforts to simplify, share, and open the IP landscape.”