Crispr Goes Commercial

Posted by Pete Shanks December 5, 2013
Biopolitical Times

Almost a month ago, as I noted here, there was a flurry of publicity about the "gene editing" technology known as Crispr that has been developed over the last couple of years. I put the media attention down to the self-interest of The Independent, a failing British newspaper, which used the threat — portrayed as promise — of germline engineering to publicize its latest relaunch.

But perhaps the paper was itself being played. Strangely, there seems to be no mention at The Independent's website of the topic of this press release (pdf):

Editas Medicine Created to Discover and Develop Novel Class of Genome Editing

Therapeutics Company Founded by Five World Leaders in Genome Editing; Secures $43 Million Series A Financing Led by Flagship Ventures, Polaris Partners and Third Rock Ventures

The basis of the company is indeed Crispr technology, which is said to be able to cut DNA at precisely defined positions and insert material to order. Its co-founders are Feng Zhang, George Church, Jennifer Doudna, Keith Joung and David Liu. The press release accurately says:

The company's five founders have published much of the foundational work that has elevated genome editing technology to a level where it can now be optimized and developed for therapeutic use.

Editas has not only lined up major financing, they already have a management team in place. Interim President Kevin Bitterman (of Polaris Partners) told Fierce Biotech:

"We think we're going to lead the way. We're making the big jump out of bacterium, where this machinery was discovered. And there's now a growing body of proof-of-concept that you can broadly target genes. We have the ability to essentially target any gene in the genome. And we have in our crosshairs any diseases with a genetic component. We can go in and fix the error."

Joung told the Boston Globe: "The way to think about it is molecular surgery." MIT Technology Review implied that Church pointed to Huntington's disease as a candidate, though the founders "won't talk specifically about the diseases they will try to address." Nature News checked with the competition, Sangamo BioSciences of Richmond, California, which uses a different technology, zinc-finger nucleases; Sangamo's chief scientific officer notes that technical issues with Crispr technology remain. But Editas will certainly be worth watching.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: