CRISPR draws the first genomic map of cancer vulnerabilities

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. The military strategist Sun Tzu wrote it over two thousand years ago, but this quote could also apply to oncology research in the CRISPR era. Identifying the weak points of cancer cells is the first step to hit new molecular targets with the next generation of drugs.

The good news is that the Wellcome Sanger Institute has taken a giant leap toward this goal, drawing up a list of 600 candidate genes. The study just published in Nature by Mathew Garnett’s team comes with a twin paper by the Broad Institute, confirming the results by following an alternative approach. In a four-year tour de force of functional genomics, Sanger’s researchers used CRISPR to disrupt every gene in over 300 cancer models from 30 cancer types. From this amount of data, they developed a prioritization system which will guide big pharma’s hunt for new drugs.

CRISPR patent update

PatentDisputeTheĀ patent landscape is getting more complex and fragmented, as more and more CRISPR patents are granted. The world’s eyes, however, are on the foundational patent soon to be granted to the University of California after an epic legal battle with the Broad Institute. That does not automatically mean the end of a story that will be studied in Intellectual Property textbooks. In the meantime, smaller disputes over key licenses are already heating up.

Relieving the IP burden on ag research

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CRISPR is cheap and easy enough to be employed in every lab not just by major ag-biotech companies. A serious roadblock standing in the way of researchers, however, threatened to limit the technology potential for plant breeding: intellectual property (IP) rights. The good news is that two major patent holders, DuPont Pioneer and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, have agreed to create a joint licensing framework for genome editing in agriculture. As a result, academic researchers are allowed to use CRISPR on plants free of charge, while biotech companies interested in commercial ag applications have a simplified procedure to access to the tools they need. Continue reading