Consumer Genetics: To Test or Not to Test?

By Marnie Gelbart and Nadine Vincenten

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing has entered our world with a big splash and opened the flood gates of genetic information. For over a decade, we have been out talking with people from all walks of life and listening to their storiesWhether we are speaking with scientists or non-scientists, whear excitement, concerns, ambivalence  – sometimes all three at the same time  and not surprisingly, many many questions as people try to make sense of it all.   

Susan Domchek, executive director of the Basser Center for BRCA, recalls counseling a patient with a family history of breast, ovarian, and colon cancer. This patient had taken a DTC genetic test that looked at her BRCA genes, and the results led her to conclude that she was not at risk for the cancers that had burdened her family. However, the patient did not realize that the test only looked at 3 of the over 1,000 BRCA variants linked to an increased cancer risk. And because the test did not look at other genes implicated in cancer, the physician recognized that it may have underestimated her patient’s risk. What if the patient had seen a doctor who did not understand the limitations of the test? Might she have avoided taking potentially life-saving precautions?  Read More

Cartoon image of a protein attached to a DNA double helix that has been spliced

Regulation of Human Genome Editing in the Dawn of the CRISPR Era

By Scott J. Schweikart

With the advent of CRISPR and the first babies born with edited genomes, gene editing technology is now cheaper and more accurate than it has been. And there is now a verifiable occurrence of heritable genome modification using CRISPR.

As such, human genome editing is naturally (and quite rightly) receiving world-wide attention. Scientists, bioethicists, lawyers, and policy makers are questioning what is the best course of action in the face of this new technology that promises great medicinal benefits, but also poses great and unknown risks. Read More

Image of Normal blood cells next to a sickle blood cell, colored scanning electron microscope image.

Recharting the Course of Sickle Cell Disease – Who will Benefit?

By Vence L. Bonham and Anitra Persaud

Scientific advancements in gene therapy and the implications of leveraging this technology to develop new curative therapies are at the forefront of medical research. Sickle cell disease (SCD), the most common genetic blood disorder, stands center stage. Last month, 60 Minutes aired a segment showcasing the story of a patient at the NIH Clinical Center who is on her journey to a cure of sickle cell disease (SCD) with the help of an experimental gene therapy.

Preliminary clinical trial findings suggest that gene therapy has an acceptable level of safety and can help individuals with the disease produce normal red blood cells instead of the sickle-shaped ones that underlie the physiological basis of the disease and its complications. Given these promising results, there is hope that gene therapy may catalyze a turning point for the SCD population, a community that has long suffered the debilitating effects of not only their disease, but of longstanding neglect within the medical system and research enterprise. Read More

Close-up of a mosquito on human skin

Of Risk and Gene Drives

A few weeks ago, I attended a panel on gene editing at Harvard Medical School that covered some aspects of the science, ethics, and law of the practice. It was an interesting talk, in part because it largely covered the ethical issues of gene editing for human medicine and in other species as two sides of the same coin, rather than as fundamentally different conversations, as they are often treated.

Indeed, one member of the audience asked why there is so much focus on the safety and ethics of human gene editing, when the stakes, he argued, are much higher in the use of gene editing for environmental engineering. A botched human germline edit could harm a family; a botched gene drive could kill us all. It’s an interesting point. And because it suggests that we may want to be less than sanguine on the use of gene drives to eradicate malaria, on which I have previously been extremely sanguine, it is a point worth responding to. Read More

Close up of a mosquito sucking blood on human skin. This mosquito is a carrier of Malaria, Encephalitis, Dengue and Zika virus.

Malaria Eradication: For Africa as America

There is a page in the history books waiting to be written for the eradication of malaria. In recent years, malaria has killed more people globally than war—it’s killed predominately children, and predominately in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite being curable, and eliminated from most developed countries, malaria is the fifth deadliest infectious disease in the world.

A team of scientists in Italy is looking to write that history. Read More

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. Read More

Can a national conscience be gene edited?

Gene editing is at once promising and perilous. Or, as John Oliver said in a recent episode of his news show, it is ”either going to kill all disease or kill every last one of us.”

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is not as amusing as John Oliver, and unlike the summer film “Rampage,” its new gene editing report features neither The Rock nor a genetically modified, 30-foot wolf.

But if you want to understand what we may actually be getting ourselves into, England’s de facto national bioethics commission has produced a useful roadmap for educating the public and addressing concerns. It may the summer read you’ve been looking for.

And if there’s a gene splicer for envy, I’m ready to be CRISPR’d.

Read More

Opportunities and challenges for user-generated licensing models in gene-editing

By Timo MinssenEsther van Zimmeren & Jakob Wested 

An earlier version of this contribution had been published in Life Science Intellectual Property Review (LSIPR).

A voluntary pool or clearinghouse model may give rise to a robust commercial ecosystem for CRISPR and could include special provisions for royalty-free research use by academics. Hence, there may be a path through the CRISPR patent jungle. But, there are many obstacles still in the way.

The revocation of Broad Institute’s patent EP2771468 reported and discussed here, marks the latest major development in a series of patent battles over the revolutionary and highly lucrative CRISPR-Cas9 technology (and other gene editing technologies) in the US and Europe.

While this is the first EPO decision in an opposition procedure concerning the Broad patent portfolio, the outcome may have implications for other related patents as the rationale for the revocation reflects a larger, systemic challenge based on the different rules regarding priority claims in different jurisdictions.

Read More

Will the EPO’s Enlarged Board of Appeal step into the CRISPR patent battle?

By  Jakob Wested, Timo Minssen & Esther van Zimmeren

Another version of this contribution has been published in Life Science Intellectual Property Review (LSIPR).

The Broad Institute is facing a formidable task in defending the revoked CRISPR patent claims in their pending appeal at the European Patent Office (EPO). Ultimately, some of the issues might still be referred to the Enlarged Board of Appeal. However, this might require a significant amount of legal and rhetorical agility.

“The Opposition Division’s interpretation of the EPC [European Patent Convention] is inconsistent with treaties designed to harmonize the international patent process, including that of the United States and Europe.”

This was the rather strong reaction of the Broad Institute after the EPO’s Opposition Division’s (OD) decision to revoke one of their CRISPR patents. It could, however, also be argued that the case presents a simple failure of the patent applicants to comply with the long-standing European practice to apply an “all applicants” approach when claiming priority under article 87 of the European Patent Convention.

Read More