Feb 27, 2019

Gene Editing and Intellectual Property: A Useful Mix?

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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: “Gene Editing and Intellectual Property: A Useful Mix?” 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.


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.

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!


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