This case study is based on information provided by the National Inventors Hall of Fame found here.
Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, Nobel Prize-winning scientists
In 1987, researcher Yoshizumi Ishino first coined the term “CRISPR” to describe a revolutionary gene-editing technology that allows scientists to make precise changes to the DNA of living organisms. The discovery represented a significant breakthrough in gene editing, with broad implications for research, biotechnology and medicine.
Microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier and biochemist Jennifer Doudna began collaborating on CRISPR-related research in 2011. Within a year, they had discovered that Cas (CRISPR-associated) 9, a gene-cutting protein used by bacteria to kill viruses, could be re-engineered as a programable gene editing tool.
As part of their research, the duo demonstrated how an RNA molecule binds the CRISPR-Cas9 system to a specific region of DNA, which then allows the Cas9 protein to edit that DNA with exact precision. This process proved to be more efficient than previously discovered gene-editing methods and led to the wide adoption of CRISPR-Cas9 in research efforts across the world. “Studying how bacteria fight viral infections may sound like a niche area of biology, and it was,” said Doudna. “But this curiosity-driven research led in directions that none of us anticipated at the start of the project.”
To date, this patented process has led to significant advancements in medicine, including the treatment of genetic diseases, like sickle cell disease, and other diseases caused by the mutation of a single gene. Scientists are also using it to develop new diagnostic tests and to create crops that are resistant to the devastating impacts of climate change. “The field of CRISPR-Cas9 continues to develop at dazzling speed, with exciting new developments emerging almost weekly,” said Charpentier.
In recognition of their efforts, Charpentier and Doudna were inducted into the 2023 National Inventors Hall of Fame and were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, among other distinctions.
The discovery and adoption of the CRISPR-Cas9 process underscores the critical role of intellectual property (IP) rights in fostering new and groundbreaking advancements to the benefit of people worldwide. A fair and stable IP environment is necessary to incentivize the research, development, and adoption of novel solutions for some of the world’s most vexing issues.
“The field of CRISPR-Cas9 continues to develop at dazzling speed, with exciting new developments emerging almost weekly."
– Microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier