CRISPR Goldrush – Money From Genes and for Genetics as the Cutting of the Code of Life Goes Commercial

The new DNA-changing tech has attracted millions. The fact that a single deal was valued at a potential $2.6 billion tells you something about the overall size the CRISPR technology could reach. CRISPR will be used and people will make money, as the new DNA-changing tech has already attracted millions of dollars from AstraZeneca, DuPont and other big companies.

Telomere_AFX3FC_3026500bWithin just three years since the discovery of its gene-editing potential, the new technique CRISPR has become the hottest, and most controversial, development in genomics research. And now it’s more than just a science – it’s big business as well. With potential benefits across human health, agriculture and industrial biotechnology, it’s no surprise CRISPR has entered the biological hall of fame.

Genetic goldrush
First it was pharma heavyweight Novartis, which signed two separate deals with gene-editing start-ups Intellia Therapeutics and Caribou Biosciences. It plans to use CRISPR for engineering immune cells and blood stem cells, and as a research tool for drug discovery.

Just weeks after Novartis, fellow drugmaker AstraZeneca sealed four deals with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the Innovative Genomics Initiative, the Broad and Whitehead Institutes in Massachusetts, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Then immunotherapy firm Juno Therapeutics shook hands with gene-editing start-up Editas to create anticancer immune cell therapies; Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Crispr Therapeutics, another start-up, inked an agreement that could be valued at $2.6 billion; while Regeneron Pharmaceuticals formed a patent license agreement with ERS Genomics partnering with Emmanuelle Charpentier, one of the CRISPR pioneers. DuPont formed alliances with Lithuania’s Vilnius University and Caribou Biosciences, with a specific interest in plant breeding and agricultural applications.

‘Interest from the pharmaceutical industry in CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing has really taken off in the last year,’ says Bill Lundberg, chief scientific officer at Crispr Therapeutics. ‘A considerable amount of my time is spent in discussions with companies and organisations that are interested in working with us.’

There has also been rapid investment in the start-up firms that aim to commercialise the CRISPR technology and its related products, both through pharma and other sources of funding. Caribou, founded by CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna, has raised $15 million; Crispr Therapeutics, set up by Charpentier, has raised $89 million since April 2014, plus $105 million through the deal with Vertex and Editas, founded by current CRISPR patent holder Feng Zhang, has brought in more than $160 million.

The technology is transformative for companies. ‘The fact a single deal was valued at a potential $2.6 billion tells you something about the overall size the technology could reach,’ says Anette Breindl, from Thomson Reuters BioWorld.

The commercial potential of CRISPR has been highly valued by AstraZeneca. It believes the technology offers a powerful solution to the research and development challenges that plague the pharmaceutical industry, says company spokeswoman Karen Birmingham. From accelerating the identification and validation of novel therapeutic targets, to creating better animal models of human diseases in a shorter time frame, to reducing the number of failed products, CRISPR looks set to shave millions off R&D costs and boost drug discovery, she says. ‘Ultimately, through the application of CRISPR we hope to increase productivity in the pharmaceutical R&D process.’

CRISPR promises to develop solutions for growers with greater precision and accelerated time-lines, says Neal Gutterson, vice president of research and development at DuPont Pioneer. ‘CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing can allow us to respond more rapidly to grower needs and to increase our ability to deliver higher-yielding crops with the same or fewer resources.’ Source: ScientificAmerican

Gene-editing startups have drawn more than $1 billion in private venture-capital investments since 2013, according to Boston Consulting Group, with investors hopeful that new, more precise DNA­ editing capabilities will yield treatments for conditions as diverse as blood diseases, cancers, auto­immune disorders and inherited eye disorders.

Cambridge, Massachusetts based Editas has raised $163.3 million from selling preferred stock, its filing said. Venture capital firms Flagship Ventures and Polaris Partners each hold more than 15 percent of the company before the offering. Google Ventures ­­ the unit of Alphabet Inc. that goes by GV for short ­­ has also bought private shares, along with Gates and Khosla Ventures.

Rodger Novak, chief executive officer of Basel, Switzerland­based Crispr Therapeutics Ltd., has said he would consider an IPO this year. Both companies have said their first ­human trials won’t start until 2017. Other closely ­held gene editing firms include Intellia Therapeutics Inc. and Poseida Therapeutics Inc. Bayer AG and Crispr Therapeutics also started a joint venture in December with a $335 million investment from Bayer. Source: Bloomberg

Paul Allen, the billionaire owner of the Seattle Seahawks football team, will give away $100 million to fund risky life-science research by scientists such as the University of California professor who was key to discovering the gene-editing breakthrough CRISPR.

The money is an initial commitment toward a larger 10-year plan to advance bioscience. The two biggest grants announced Wednesday, for $20 million each, will fund centers at Stanford University and Tufts University to look into computer modeling of infections of the immune system and how cell tissue is created, respectively.

The foundation, called the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, will also give grants of about $1 million to $1.5 million to support early-stage research by scientists. Among the first recipients is Jennifer Doudna, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who helped discover gene-editing technique CRISPR, which can slice and edit DNA, the code of life, to help develop drugs. She will use some of the funding to look beyond CRISPR and target the gene messaging system in cells. Another recipient is James Collins, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who will work on designing safe bacteria to kill dangerous bacteria.

Allen, who has a net worth of $18 billion according the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, has shown an interest in donating to biological research before. During the Ebola crisis in 2014, he pledged $100 million to fight the spread of the disease, and founded the Allen Institute for Brain Science in 2003. The 63-year-old co-founded Microsoft Corp. with Bill Gates in 1975. Source: Bloomberg


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