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This Startup Wants to Democratize CRISPR Gene Editing Research By Making It Free

December 13, 2017, 3:05 PM UTC
Model of DNA molecule, DNA sequencing in background
Photograph by GIPhotoStock via Cultura RF/Getty Images

CRISPR gene editing is widely regarded as one of the most significant advances in the life sciences in decades. The technology, which allows scientists to slice and dice bits of genetic code with the help of special CRISPR enzymes, has implications in everything from curing devastating diseases to making pigs less fatty to creating bigger, tastier, genetically modified tomatoes.

But existing CRISPR technologies are so red-hot that they’ve prompted an epic intellectual property showdown between the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University’s Feng Zhang and U.C. Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna and her academic partner Emmanuelle Charpentier (and the warring factions’ various affiliated biotechs). Well, Inscripta, a startup backed by Venrock, wants to take the IP considerations out of the equation by providing a new kind of CRISPR enzyme to (most) scientists at no cost.

“We want to liberate the research. We want to make it unencumbered, free,” Inscripta CEO Kevin Ness tells Fortune. Inscripta has a different CRISPR enzyme from the Cas9 and Cpf1 varieties most commonly being experimented with today. Called “MAD7,” the enzyme is available for free to scientists innovating in the space. “You can go right to the website, download the sequences instantly, even get a user guide,” says Ness.

Inscripta’s business model is somewhat of a cross between an incubator and public resource library. It’s not a nonprofit, though—companies or scientists who want to simply resell the MAD7 enzyme or use it in their products would have to pay Inscripta a single digit royalty. And, ultimately, the firm’s ambition is to sell technological instruments and reagents to firms to help them with their work.

Still, Ness sees the democratic approach as key to further unlocking CRISPR’s potential. “You can’t build a house without a hammer,” he says.