Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna Lost a Patent in 2017. It Won Them a Nobel Prize Today
Image credits: Twitter/The Nobel Prize.
Emmanuelle Charpentier of France and Jennifer Doudna of the United States won the Nobel Chemistry Prize for developing the gene-editing technique known as the CRISPR-Cas9 DNA snipping "scissors", on Wednesday.
The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and prize money of 10 million krona (more than $1.1 million), courtesy of a bequest left more than a century ago by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel. The amount was increased recently to adjust for inflation.
Charpentier, 51, and Doudna, 56, are just the sixth and seventh women to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
The laureates Charpentier and Doudna discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision.
"Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision. This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true," the Nobel jury said.
The strangest thing about the win so far about the CRISPR is that back in 2017, Charpentier and Doudna lost the legal battle for the patent of it - which went to a US company.
The key breakthrough of CRSIPR came in 2012, when teams in the US and Europe led by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier showed how the defence system could be turned into a ‘cut and paste’ tool for editing gene sequences.
However, another US team beat them to a patent for using the method on human cells, sparking a legal row over priority – and in February 2017, the US patent office ruled against Doudna and Charpentier. Despite this, they remained widely credited as the real pioneers of CRISPR by fellow scientists.
A report in magazine Science in 2017, before the patent ruling had looked into the legalities and how the process had transpired. According to the report, Doudna, Charpentier and collaborators — had first filed a patent application in May 2012. However, a secondary group who filed the patent soon after them, won. In 2017, the patent was appealed, and once again it was ruled against Doudna and Charpentier.
In September 2020, Charpentier was included in the patent but Doudna was still left out, as the legal fight for the patent still remains murky.
In 2016, Charpentier and Doudna were awarded the 2016 HFSP Nakasone Award for their seminal work on the CRISPR-Cas9 system.
While patents often fall under other factors like time-boundness and legal frame-work, the Nobel Prize for the discovery is perhaps the recognition that truly projects them as the rightful and pioneers of the CRISPR system.
While researching a common harmful bacteria, Charpentier discovered a previously unknown molecule -- part of the bacteria's ancient immune system that disarms viruses by snipping off parts of their DNA.
The CRISPR/Cas9 tool has already contributed to significant gains in crop resilience, altering their genetic code to better withstand drought and pests.
The technology has also led to innovative cancer treatments, and many experts hope it could one day make inherited diseases curable through gene manipulation.