Recently, DuPont Pioneer and the Broad Institute signed an agreement permitting non-exclusive licensing of CRISPR-Cas9 for agricultural products. CRISPR-Cas9 is an efficient genome-editing technology in which a guide RNA “leads” an enzyme, called Cas9, to a specific gene. CRISPR-Cas9 is generating much interest in the scientific community because it shows potential in treating various genetic conditions and is less expensive than other gene-editing methods.
The food industry is another community interested in CRISPR-Cas9. Such producers believe that CRISPR-Cas9 can contribute to longer-lasting foods. Explaining the reasoning behind non-exclusively licensing CRISPR-Cas9, DuPont Pioneer President Neal Gutterson said he wants to encourage access to healthy, affordable foods and increasing access to CRISPR-Cas9 is part of the “greater good”.
DuPont Pioneer’s actions seem to be part of a broader trend; creating patent policies that address frequent criticisms of patents. Critics argue that patents threaten accessibility to essential products, especially in developing countries. DuPont Pioneer wants to increase the availability of nutritious, inexpensive food and food insecurity affects 800 million people, globally. Similarly, drug maker GlaxoSmithKline provides generic drug makers with licences in exchange for small royalties in lower middle-income jurisdictions.
It will be interesting to see the result of this decision. Will there be reduced food insecurity? Will criticisms of CRISPR-Cas9 affect the decision? Will patent-holders of other gene-editing techniques adopt similar policies?