The year was 2012. Few if any specialists outside of scientific labs knew what CRISPR stood for, let alone what the technology could do.
But a small, select group of UC Hastings students, working with UC Hastings’ Startup Legal Garage under the tutelage of famed Wilson Sonsini patent lawyer Vern Norviel, was combing the patent landscape to determine whether a nascent startup could become commercially competitive as it made CRISPR available to others.
That startup, Caribou Biosciences, led by Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna, was in a cohort of bioscience companies that came to the Startup Legal Garage through QB3, UC’s hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in the life sciences and the chief pipeline for the Startup Legal Garage’s patent module.
This week, Doudna, a professor of chemistry at UC Berkeley and already highly renowned in her field, received the Nobel Prize for chemistry, along with Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. The pair developed Crispr-Cas9, a method to edit the DNA of animals, plants, and microorganisms with high precision.
Charpentier and Doudna pioneered the work in 2012, at the same time Doudna and her young company, Caribou, were looking for ways to make it commercially available to other scientists and companies, all with the help of the Startup Legal Garage.
The pair is the first all-woman team to win a Nobel prize.
“When Caribou applied to Startup Legal Garage, there was a tremor of excitement,” said Prof. Robin Feldman, who founded the Startup Legal Garage a decade ago. “I remember saying to people that not since Genentech launched the entire biotech industry has a technology offered so much promise. Now, it appears to be one of the greatest life science inventions of our time.”
One mission of the Startup Legal Garage is to increase equity in the tech world by providing services to women and entrepreneurs of color. “We have been celebrating Jennifer’s monumental accomplishment,” said Professor Paul Belonick, director of the Startup Legal Garage. “We’re glad our UC Hastings Law students played a role in getting her company off the ground.”
Founded in 2010, the Startup Legal Garage provides patent and corporate legal resources, free of charge, as part of UC Hastings’ Center for Innovation (C4i), led by Feldman. Each participating startup is assigned a legal team comprised of a supervising attorney from a leading intellectual property or corporate law firm and two UC Hastings students.
“Hastings and the Startup Legal Garage has become an essential element of the Bay Area life science entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Wilson Sonsini’s Norviel. “Their essential role in the ecosystem is dramatically illustrated by the fact that the science behind one of the first Startup Legal Garage projects is now the subject of the Nobel Prize. This also demonstrates the completely unique educational experience offered to law students via the program.”
In the patent module, students perform a patent landscape analysis, which is part of early-stage due diligence required for young life science companies looking for investors. In the corporate module, law students help young companies set up their business and prepare to grow.
Wilson Sonsini attorneys continue to work with students and clients from Startup Legal Garage through both modules. “I am proud to have been a small part,” Norviel said.
Read more about Crispr here.
The featured image that appears on the home page is used with permission from the Nobel Foundation.