CRISPR Nobel Prize

Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020.

1) Press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

As so often in science, the discovery of these genetic scissors was unexpected. During Emmanuelle Charpentier’s studies of Streptococcus pyogenes, one of the bacteria that cause the most harm to humanity, she discovered a previously unknown molecule, tracrRNA. Her work showed that tracrRNA is part of bacteria’s ancient immune system, CRISPR/Cas, that disarms viruses by cleaving their DNA.

2) Recent update on the status of the patent dispute with the Broad Institute.

Many observers of the patent battle have long hoped Broad and CVC will reach a settlement, but Sherkow thinks it’s less likely now. “Almost every outcome is stacked in Broad’s favor,” he says. If CVC wins, he says, it will have the patent for the single molecule guide, but Broad will not lose its eukaryotic patent and, at worst, will have to share it. If CVC loses, “they’re toast, they come away empty,” Sherkow says.

3) Some context from Nathaniel Comfort (from 2016).

“Shitstorm” would be one term of art for the reaction in the genome community to a commentary in Cell by Eric Lander … presents as a definitive account of the discovery of CRISPR… likely to go down as the most important biotechnological invention since Kary Mullis invented the polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

But I prefer another phrase to describe Lander’s account: “Whig history.” The term comes from the Europeanist Herbert Butterfield. In a classic 1931 essay, Butterfield wrote that Whig history was “the tendency in many historians to write [English history] on the side of Protestants and Whigs, to praise revolutions provided they have been successful, to emphasize certain principles of progress in the past and to produce a story which is the ratification if not the glorification of the present.

4) Historical/intellectual property context from Dominic Berry.

The most obvious way to start is by showing that the CRISPR case is playing out – at the broadest level – in similar ways to how high profile science and technology IP disputes have played out in the past.

5) Two blog posts by Michael Eisen (from 2016).
The Villain of CRISPR

What is particularly galling about this whole thing, is that Lander has a long history of attempting to rewrite scientific history so that credit goes not to the forgotten little people, but to him and those in his inner circle. The most prominent example of this is the pitched battle for credit for sequencing the human genome, in which Lander time and time again tried to rewrite history to paint the public genome project, and his role in it, in the most favorable light.

Patents are destroying the soul of academic science

And most importantly we all would benefit returning academic science to its roots in basic discovery oriented research. We see with CRISPR the toxic effects of turning academic institutions into money hungry hawkers of intellectual property. Pursuit of patent riches has transformed The Broad Institute, which houses some of the most talented scientists working today, into a prominent purveyor of calumny.