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    4 companies band together in fight over gene-editing tool that could help cure diseases

    Vic Myer is chief technology officer at Cambridge startup Editas Medicine, which is involved in a complicated dispute over gene-editing technology.
    Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File 2016
    Vic Myer is chief technology officer at Cambridge startup Editas Medicine, which is involved in a complicated dispute over gene-editing technology.

    Battle lines hardened Friday in an ongoing technology fight over a promising gene-editing tool that could potentially be worth billions of dollars.

    Four companies — including Cambridge’s Intellia Therapeutics Inc. and Crispr Therapeutics Inc., a Swiss firm with research operations in Cambridge — agreed to form an intellectual property alliance with academic research institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. The agreement allows them to share the science behind the tool, called CRISPR-Cas9, as they move forward with developing medical treatments based on the technology.

    But another prominent Cambridge startup, Editas Medicine, was left out of the agreement. Editas, the first Massachusetts gene-editing company to go public, has licensed its gene-editing technology from the lab of Feng Zhang at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, which holds patents that are being challenged by companies in the new alliance.

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    Those firms — Intellia, Crispr Therapeutics, Caribou Biosciences Inc. of Berkeley, Calif., and ERS Genomics Ltd. of Dublin — have licensed their CRISPR-Cas9 technology from the University of California Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier at Vienna University.Those universities are also part of the new intellectual property alliance.

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    The rival parties are involved in a long-running patent dispute over the foundational science behind CRISPR-Cas9, which has the potential to unlock cures for thousands of genetic diseases by cutting out and revising, removing, or repairing DNA, the building block of life.

    Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the US Patent Trial and Appeal Board heard oral arguments in the case.

    The board will decide whether the competing patent claims conflict with one another and, ultimately, who owns the commercial rights to the technology.

    Under their agreement, members of the new alliance will coordinate their legal efforts to press their claims against patents held by the Broad and defend the competing intellectual property they are licensing from Doudna and Charpentier.

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    All three of the gene-editing companies with Cambridge operations went public this year, drawing hundreds of millions of dollars in capital to fund their drug development efforts. That reflects investor enthusiasm about the potential for gene-editing to create breakthrough treatments for patients with a range of diseases, starting with rare genetic disorders.

    Editas, using technology from the Broad, raised $94 million in its initial public offering in February. Intellia raised $104 million in a May offering, and Crispr raised $56 million in October. Both use technology from Berkeley and Vienna.

    Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.