Harvard’s base editing technology licensed in agriculture
A startup, Pairwise Plants, aims to create new tools to efficiently address global food challenges
Cambridge, Mass. – March 20, 2018 – Harvard University has granted a license to Pairwise Plants, an agriculture startup, to develop and commercialize DNA base editing applications for food and agriculture companies across specialty crops, fruits and vegetables.
The licensed technology platform of base editing methods, variations of Cas9, and related enzymes, was developed in the Harvard laboratory of David R. Liu, PhD, Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. Base editing allows for precise and efficient changes directly to the sequence of DNA bases – As, Cs, Gs, and Ts – in a plant’s genome. Pairwise will further develop and apply the technology to accelerate crop innovation needed in the face of growing environmental and global food security challenges.
The license to Pairwise, granted by Harvard’s Office of Technology Development, incorporates limitations in keeping with internationally accepted standards, including prohibitions on the company’s use of the technology for gene drives, creation of sterile seed stocks, or modifications of tobacco for human use. Subject to similar safety considerations, the right of academic and other not-for-profit researchers to use Harvard’s technology in their scholarly research is, as always, preserved.
“The potential for Harvard’s base editing technology to bring greater precision and efficiency to the improvement of agricultural crops is, to my knowledge, unmatched among existing methods of genome editing,” said Isaac T. Kohlberg, Senior Associate Provost and Chief Technology Development Officer at Harvard. “It’s an important scientific advance. For such transformative platform technologies, we are proud at OTD to have pioneered licensing models that are both responsible and commercially effective. In this case, we’re glad for the readiness of a small company to devote focused resources to fully develop this early-stage technology, so that in the near future, society can derive the greatest benefit from it.”
In addition to his faculty appointment in Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Liu is a Core Member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, where he is the Richard Merkin Professor and Director of the Merkin Institute of Transformative Technologies in Healthcare, Vice-Chair of the Faculty, and Director of the Chemical Biology and Therapeutic Sciences Program. He is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.
His lab’s research on base editing was supported in part by DARPA and by the National Institutes of Health.