Abstract representation of DNA double helix

Gene Editing and Intellectual Property: A Useful Mix?

The Health Policy and Bioethics Consortia is a monthly series that convenes two international experts from different fields or vantage points to discuss how biomedical innovation and health care delivery are affected by various ethical norms, laws, and regulations.

They are organized by the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics and the Program on Regulation, Therapeutics, and Law (PORTAL) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in collaboration with the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. Support provided by the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund at Harvard University.

A light lunch will be provided. This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. Please note that attendees will need to show ID in order to enter the venue. Register now!


One way of thinking about genome editing is through the lens of the legal and ethical obligations of ensuring the technology is deployed safely and accurately, for the betterment of human society.

Or, if that’s a mouthful for you, genome editing’s rights—and wrongs. Which brings me to a talk I’ll* be giving at Harvard Medical School on March 8: “Genome Editing: Rights and Wrongs” I feel obligated, however, to asterisk the personal pronoun (“I”) because, in truth, what I’ll be doing is sharing the stage with one the world’s most celebrated scientists, George Church, world-renowned bioethicist, Jeantine Lunshof, and moderated by health policy guru, Aaron Kesselheim.

The talk will cover the science of genome editing, including CRISPR, and in particular, the scientific advances made in the field since its principal discovery as an engineering tool in 2012.

These include developments in enzyme technology that can make CRISPR more accurate, less error-prone, and suitable for wider use than previously thought possible. We’ll also be going over some thoughts about ethical considerations about using the technology for a variety of applications: how some ethical concerns are very real; but how others are, frankly, overblown.

And we’ll take a dive—perhaps into the deep end—on the moral philosophy of human germline editing à la He Jiankui. (Perhaps: “Bad—but not as bad as everyone makes it out to be”?)

We’ll also be discussing—how could we not?—the front-page patent disputes covering the technology and some of the ethical implications arising from those. Ownership over fundamental aspects of the technology can, after all, affect which therapies get development, the price of those therapies, who will pay for them, and the social inequities that are likely to result.

I’m proud to be speaking with such a great group of scholars. The talk will be fun—both for those in attendance but also us on stage. I hope to work with them all more in the future and—now that I’ve broken the seal—contribute more often to Bill of Health.


Jacob S. Sherkow

Jacob S. Sherkow is a Professor of Law at the Innovation Center for Law and Technology at New York Law School where he teaches a variety of courses related to intellectual property. His research focuses on how scientific developments, especially in the biosciences, affect patent law and litigation. Prof. Sherkow is the author of over 30 articles on these and related topics in both scientific journals and traditional law reviews, including Science, Nature, and the Yale Law Journal and the Stanford Law Review.

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