Will CRISPR pioneers win the 2020 Nobel Prize when the patent battle continues? If not, when?

On 7 October 2020, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded jointly to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna "for the development of a method for genome editing". This is the first time a Nobel Prize has been awarded to scientists for their work in CRISPR! 

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CRISPR Patent Battle Continues

For years, it was believed that CRISPR had a great chance of winning a Nobel Prize. However, the long-running patent battle has presented a large obstacle on its road to honor.

The latest round in the CRISPR patent battle came to a result on September 10th. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) ruled that the Broad group led by Feng Zhang has “priority” in its already granted patents for uses of the original CRISPR system in eukaryotic cells, which covers potentially lucrative applications in lab-grown human cells or in people directly. The ruling also gives the CVC group (University of California-Berkeley, the University of Vienna, and Emmanuelle Charpentier) a leg up on the invention of guide RNA, a critical component of the CRISPR tool kit (Jon Cohen, Science). 

The CRISPR patent battle between Broad and CVC has lasted for years and many observers have long hoped that these groups could reach a settlement. As the statement issued by Broad on September 10th said, “The best thing, for the entire field, is for the parties to reach a resolution and for the field to focus on using CRISPR technology to solve today’s real-world problems.”

Honors Presented to CRISPR Pioneers

The controversy regarding the CRISPR patent never stops, but it did not affect the scientific community from presenting dozens of internationally renowned prizes to the pioneers, as recognition for their great contribution. Some of these prestigious prizes have gained a reputation for identifying future winners of the Nobel Prize. 


The 2020 Nobel Prize 

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded 110 times to 219 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2019. Historically, the Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded to many studies in the biochemistry field as well. For example, in 1980 the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Paul Berg ”for his fundamental studies of the biochemistry of nucleic acids, with particular regard to recombinant-DNA”, and in 2006, the prize went to Roger D. Kornberg ”for his studies of the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription”. In this respect, there is a great possibility that some study in the biochemistry field might win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year as well. 

Does CRISPR have chances to win a 2020 Nobel Prize? 

CRISPR supporters might say that this transformative technology has the potential to revolutionize the fields of genetics, molecular biology and medicine, ultimately eradicating previously incurable diseases. The scientists who have discovered the system and engineered it into precise genome editing tools deserve a Nobel Prize. It’s just a matter of time.

On the other hand, objectors have their own thoughts. Firstly, CRISPR research is a comprehensive and highly collaborative field that involves the contributions of many talented scientists around the world. Although Doudna, Charpentier and Feng Zhang are the most famous scientists in the field, they are not actually the people who first discovered the system. More importantly, although CRISPR appears to be very promising and was proved effective in a few clinical studies, it is still too early to accurately predict the ramifications of this technology on science, healthcare, and even human society. 

As we know, nominations for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine are by invitation only. The Nobel Committee sends confidential forms to people who are competent and qualified to nominate candidates. The names of the nominees and other information regarding the nominations cannot be revealed until 50 years later. It has become a tradition and great fun betting on who will win the Nobel Prize next. How wonderful would it be if you guessed it right!

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When will CRISPR pioneers win the Nobel Prize?

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  • Within 5 years
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  • Within 5 to 10 years
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4 Reply

I think CRISPR will win the Nobel prize within five years. 2020 has been an exciting year for genome editing technologies with lots of breakthroughs, e.g., CRISPR-free mitochondrial base editor, Faster and more efficient base editor, etc. I believe that CRISPR will make a tremendous research breakthrough in the next five years and has a chance to win the Nobel prize.


The worldwide scientific community has tacitly put a moratorium on human clinical application of CRISPR gene editing, waiting until unknown risks can become known. But this ethical agreement has been breached, and calls are now being heard for more rigorous regulations. Therefore, I don't think CRISPR will win nobel this year as the controversy remains regarding it's application in human beings.


I'm afraid the CRISPR scientists may have to wait for ~10 years before they are awarded a Nobel Prize. People need time to see the impact this technology has brought, good or bad.


Compared with Doudna, Charpentier and Feng Zhang, I think the researchers who discovered CRISPR sequences and CRISPR-Cas system are more likely to win a Nobel Prize in the coming years. For example, Osaka University researcher Yoshizumi Ishino, Francisco Mojica at the University of Alicante in Spain. Their work are more fundamental and proved valuable over time.


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