CRISPR Cas9 patent: The race to bring gene editing to the clinic

The ability to cut DNA sequences promises treatments for cancer, sickle cell anaemia and muscular dystrophy. And it might give you an instant six-pack. The Space Race pitted Russia and the US against each other to be first on the Moon. Now there’s a new technological competition: between America and China over gene editing.

The prizes are immense. Researchers in the US, Europe and China are closing in on practical techniques to cure a legion of diseases. They could treat cancer, muscular dystrophy, HIV and some forms of blindness – all thanks to a new gene editing tool that has revolutionised biomedical research. The new technique is CRISPR and it has rapidly relegated other systems to second place. “In the future, I don’t think any new genome editing therapies will be developed except with CRISPR,” says MIT biologist Richard Hynes, who also co-chairs a panel from the US National Academy of Sciences looking at the ethics of gene editing.

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