CSIRO maintains foundational patent for RNAi gene silencing technology after European opposition

03-Mar-2015 - Australia

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), has successfully defended its foundational patent in Europe for RNA interference (RNAi) gene silencing technology.

RNAi technology is a powerful method that is widely used as a research tool to test the function of genes and is being developed for a range of targeted therapies in humans and animals as well as agricultural applications for innovative plant products. Human therapeutic applications under development using RNAi include treatment of virus diseases such as hepatitis and other diseases including cancers. Animal applications include the selection of production traits in livestock and the protection against diseases such as influenza in chickens.

The granted European patent (EP1068311), also known as the Waterhouse patent, was maintained in an amended form as confirmed in a decision which issued last week from the European Patent Office. The patent had been opposed by four parties. The maintained claims of the patent are directed to the use of hairpin RNA molecules which are produced from genetic constructs, also known as DNA-delivered RNAi (ddRNAi).

The European patent is a key part of CSIRO's extensive RNAi portfolio of more than 60 granted patents, stemming from the pioneering work of CSIRO scientists led by Dr Peter Waterhouse who first developed and tested hairpin RNA in plants in 1997. The patent portfolio has been licensed to more than 20 licensees including Bayer CropScience who have exclusive rights to certain plant species and Benitec Biopharma Limited (ASX: BLT, OTC: BTEBY) who have worldwide, exclusive rights for human therapeutics. CSIRO has also made available a series of vectors for hairpin RNA in plants and distributed these free of charge to more than 4000 academic and not-for-profit research organisations and universities.

Since its first use at CSIRO, hairpin RNA technology has revolutionised the search for genes responsible for valuable traits in many crop species. The technology has also been developed for use in animals, particularly in mammals where shorter RNAi molecules (shRNA) are commonly used. The maintained patent covers applications in both plants and animals.

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