Evotec teamed up with Merck to boost its drug discovery services with CRISPR, entering the battlefield for the patent behind the discovery of the century.
Apart from being a pioneer in the translation of research from academia to the clinic, Evotec is a successful CRO with top-level partners including Bayer, Roche, Sanofi, Boehringer Ingelheim and Takeda. The German company is now adding Merck to the list with an agreement that will let Evotec use the pharma’s genome CRISPR lentiviral libraries and shRNA to bolster its efforts in gene identification and drug discovery.
Evotec will incorporate these tools into its induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) platform to screen for new drug targets. The aim is to create a ‘one-stop solution’ that will allow the team members to provide full drug discovery services to their clients.
The agreement lets Evotec get hold of CRISPR, which has been hailed the ‘scientific discovery of the century’. However, this means the company is getting into muddy waters with an ongoing patent battle for the technology’s IP.
Merck accessed the CRISPR technology last year when it acquired Sigma-Aldrich. In turn, SA obtained the license from the Broad Institute, which is currently battling against Berkeley for the IP of CRISPR. Although Feng Zhang (Broad) was awarded a patent in 2014, Jennifer Doudna (Berkeley) initiated an interference proceeding last year that could allow her to take over the patent.
Despite the murkiness surrounding the ownership of CRISPR and the absence of clinical results, plenty of companies are leaping at the chance to gamble in CRISPR. Meanwhile, China has taken the lead with the start of the first CRISPR human trial in November. The die is cast, who will be victorious as the first to launch a CRISPR therapy for humans?
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