Vertex Pharmaceuticals has entered a license agreement with Editas Medicine to use the latter company’s Cas9 gene editing technology.

Vertex will pay $50m to Editas upfront, with an additional contingent $50m payment, according to documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The companies did not disclose what would trigger the second payment. 

Editas is also in line to receive annual licence fees in the range of $10m to $40m through 2034.

As part of the deal, Vertex gains non-exclusive licensing rights to the technology for ex vivo gene editing medicines targeting the BCL11A gene in the blood disorders sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia. The deal encompasses Casgevy (exagamglogene autotemcel), which gained FDA approval for the treatment of sickle cell disease on 8 December, alongside bluebird bio’s Lyfgenia (lovo-cel).

CRISPR is a genetic editing technology that can snip a piece of DNA at precise locations. The approach uses “Cas” proteins found in bacteria to seek and bind to target sequences using RNA for guidance. Cas9 protein is the most widely used protein.

The deal follows a long-running patent battle brought by one of the Nobel Prize-winning creators of the technology, namely the University of Vienna and the University of California against The Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard. The Broad Institute won a US Patent and Trademark Office Ruling in February 2022. Editas then licensed the tech, becoming exclusive license holders for certain patents of human applications of CRISPR, including for RNA-guided nuclease Cas9 owned and co-owned by The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the Rockefeller University, according to a 13 December press release by Editas.  

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As such, Editas will now pay a “mid-double-digit percentage of amounts received from Vertex” to The Broad Institute, according to the SEC filing.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals has itself been shoring up protection of its technology, with GlobalData reporting that the company saw growths of 167% in patent filings and 99% in grants in Q3 2023.

GlobalData is the parent company of Pharmaceutical Technology.

Cell & Gene Therapy coverage on Pharmaceutical Technology is supported by Cytiva.

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