Eric Lander criticized for CRISPR article

Eric Lander criticized for CRISPR article

Professor Eric Lander has come under fire for an article in Cell that some see as skewing the history of CRISPR to favor the Harvard- and MIT-affiliated Broad Institute, which is currently involved in a high-stakes patent fight with Berkeley over the gene-editing technology.

In “The Heroes of CRISPR,” Lander, who is the director of the Broad Institute, gives an account of two decades of research across multiple countries leading to an accurate and powerful gene-editing system that has been called a revolution in biology.

In online comments and on Twitter, some scientists questioned Lander’s motivations.

Berkeley’s Michael Eisen called the article “science propoganda at its most repellant” and “a deliberate effort to undermine Doudna and Charpentier patent claims and prizeworthiness,” referring to Jennifer Doudna of Berkeley and her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier.

At issue in the patent case is whether the key breakthroughs in CRISPR’s development were first made by Doudna’s team or by Feng Zhang and his team at the Broad Institute.

Lander has defended his article to news outlets, saying that he had contacted Doudna in December to fact-check his article. But Doudna has said he refused to share all of the relevant parts of the story.

Lander and Cell were also criticized for not disclosing the Broad Institute’s role in the patent case. A Cell spokesman told news outlets that the publication’s current policies only require that personal — not institutional — conflicts of interest be disclosed.

The rights to CRISPR’s commercial applications could be worth millions of dollars.

—Leon Lin