The scientific breakthrough of the century has finally received a patent in the U.S. The system may permit some individuals suffering from cancer, HIV, inherited diseases, and other illnesses to obtain relief. Many are concerned, however, that the license may stifle medical progress.
Two female researchers recently received a patent in the U.S. for their 2012 description of the necessary components that enable the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to be employed. Numerous awards, totaling over one million dollars, have been granted to the ladies, Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Germany.
With the increasing popularity of the innovative technique, many rush to learn the process and whether the patent could impede further study of the method.
How it Works
As explained by a researcher of neurodegenerative disorders and professor at the University of Central Florida (UCF), CRISPR-Cas9 can serve to either repair a patient’s damaged cells or destroy them to prevent the spread of disease in the body. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, cells are the basic building blocks of all living things and contain genetic material. If they are damaged, severe afflictions may occur.
As reported by the National Institutes of Health, CRISPR-Cas9 was first studied in hopes of disabling dangerous viruses, such as HIV. Nature explained that this method also works for cancer immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to battle the illness. The technique was immediately revolutionary, with endless clinical applications. Patients now have hope for possible relief, as scientists continue experimentation.
What’s the Cost?
In contrast to other forms of gene therapy, CRISPR-Cas9 is highly affordable, according to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. However, the publishers note that patents permit pharmaceutical companies to control therapeutic applications and their prices based on its novelty, demand, and profitability. So, although a loved one may be suffering from a condition curable by the new technology, it may not be permitted for experimentation as it is not profitable enough.
Consider how Spark Therapeutics relished in this system with their recent $850,000 gene therapy Luxterna. It cures individuals with a disorder that results in blindness. However, many patients will be unable to afford the procedure, which was priced according to its novelty and low demand.
The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT were granted rights to CRISPR-Cas9 early last year, requiring scholars not affiliated with the institutions but wishing to analyze the treatment’s benefits to pay a considerable expense. A publication from Nature states that it is common for scientists to have increased difficulties accessing the necessary tools for studying new therapies following patents.
With one of the most substantial advancements in the hands of establishments seemingly more interested in financial gain than public health, experimentation could be stifled, slowing progress for developing cures. As patients excitingly await advancement of CRISPR-Cas9 treatments, researchers passionately work to improve the nation’s quality of life.