CRF Blog

BW: How ___’s Gene Editing Technique Will Change the World

by Bill Hayes

In How ___’s Gene Editing Technique Will Change the World, a Bloomberg Businessweek feature story, Robert Kolker explores two competing high-tech patent claims.

For two years, UC Berkeley and the Broad Institute have engaged in a simmering public-relations war over who invented the Crispr-Cas9 method, each spinning its version in press releases and video primers. For her part, [Jennifer] Doudna says her work with RNA molecules made her research distinctive. Everyone else, she says, was looking at DNA. That would include [Feng] Zhang. “What I’ve always found interesting in science,” she says, “is making connections between things that are not necessarily connected or don’t appear to be connected.”

Across the country, Zhang’s lab in Cambridge is at the Broad Institute in Kendall Square, the world nexus of biotech investment and research, a five-minute walk from Editas’s offices. When I visit a week after meeting with Doudna, Zhang greets me with a warm, confident smile. Boyish and upbeat, he’s eager to discuss his lab’s latest advances in Crispr techniques: the methods he’s found to make the editing more precise; his ambition to map out complex brain diseases like Alzheimer’s; the protein he found that works as well as Cas9 and which he owns the patent to, free and clear. If Doudna is an outsider to the gene-editing world, Zhang is a native, an Intel Science Talent Search finalist who’s been devoted to the idea of reprogramming DNA since 1993, when an after-school program in Des Moines took him to see Jurassic Park.

Unlike Doudna, who badly wants to shape the way the public thinks about Crispr, Zhang isn’t interested in ethical conversations about designer babies, which he says are a long way off. “The thing everybody should focus on is how we can push this technology forward, so we can actually treat a disease,” he says.

Zhang is as quietly focused as Doudna in asserting his ownership of Crispr. [more]