AstraZeneca turns to CRISPR for drug discovery; Are you watching Cellectis?

By Gareth Macdonald contact

- Last updated on GMT

AstraZeneca goes big on CRISPR, despite Cellectis patent
AstraZeneca goes big on CRISPR, despite Cellectis patent

Related tags: Dna

AstraZeneca has partnered to use the CRISPR genome editing technique across its discovery programmes in a move that puts it on a collision course with French Biotech, Cellectis.

The agreements, with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, The Innovative Genomics Initiative (IGI), ThermoFisher Scientific and the Broad Institute, are focused on using CRISPR to find drug targets in preclinical models modified to resemble human diseases.

Each collaboration differs slightly. The Wellcome Trust will test its genome-wide CRISPR guide RNA libraries against cell lines provided by AstraZeneca, IGI will focus on the role CRISPR genes play in diseases and the Broad Institute will focus on cancer drug discovery.

In contrast, ThermoFisher will supply AstraZeneca with RNA-guide libraries that target known genes, which the drugmaker will use to screen cell lines to identify new disease targets.

The agreements are in keeping with AstraZeneca’s strategy of cutting internal R&D capacity and partnering to refill its pipelines​.

Patent issues​ 

The potential problem is that a US patent issued to Cellectis this month could prevent AstraZeneca and its partners from using CRISPR at all, at least that is according to the French biotech. 

On December 30th​ US patent – No. 8,921,332​ – was awarded to Boston Children’s Hospital and Institut Pasteur and licensed exclusively by Cellectis.

The broad patent was filed in 1999 and covers all gene-editing technologies that depend on chimeric endonucleases to alter and repair DNA – providing the DNA sequence has at least 12 base pairs, and only for in vitro applications.

The company claims the IP could cover tools like CRISPR​ – which uses a short sequence of RNA (Cas-9) to guide endonucleases to cut genomes – and zinc-finger nuclease​ – enzymes used to perform knock-outs on mammalian cells.

The patent also “may result in severe IP constraints​” to mega-TALE, transcription activator-like effector-nucleases, and meganucleases, other technologies based on chimeric endonucleases, said Cellectis.

Whether Cellectis’s claims stand up remains to be seen. One IP lawyer we asked said “How can they issue this patent when we’ve been doing this science for 10 years?​” 

It is also hard to predict what impact Cellectis’ patent will have on AstraZeneca, however, it is worth noting that ThermoFisher already has a license agreement with the French firm.

Related topics: Preclinical Research, Preclinical

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