Biotech startup Editas Medicine has lots of money to figure out how to build drugs that can turn genes and disease on and off. The Cambridge company launched today with $43 million in venture money. Flagship Ventures, Polaris Partners, Third Rock Ventures and participation from Partners Innovation Fund contributed to the Series A round. Flagship also contributed to the funding of Seres Health, which launched last week.
Led by Feng Zhang, the Editas team has developed a way to stop an individual gene from functioning or replace it with a new one. MIT News reported the breakthrough in July:
Zhang’s team, led by graduate students Patrick Hsu and David Scott, has now created a computer model that can identify the best genetic sequences to target a given gene.
The genome-editing system, known as CRISPR, exploits a protein-RNA complex that bacteria use to defend themselves from infection. The complex includes short RNA sequences bound to an enzyme called Cas9, which slices DNA. These RNA sequences are designed to target specific locations in the genome; when they encounter a match, Cas9 cuts the DNA.
This technique offers a much faster and more efficient way to create transgenic mice, which are often used to study human disease. Current methods for creating such mice require adding small pieces of DNA to mouse embryonic cells. However, the process is inefficient and time-consuming.
With CRISPR, many genes are edited at once, and the entire process can be done in three weeks, says Zhang.
Kevin Bitterman, Ph.D., is the interim president of Editas Medicine and a principal at Polaris Partners. The rest of the Editas team includes:
- Feng Zhang, Ph.D., core member of the Broad Institute, investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and joint assistant professor in the Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- George Church, Ph.D., founding core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University Robert Winthrop professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School
- Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology at the University of California, Berkeley
- Keith Joung, M.D., Ph.D., associate chief of pathology for research and associate pathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School
- David Liu, Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University, is a renowned protein evolution and engineering biologist.
According to a release:
Editas’ mission is to translate its genome editing technology into a novel class of human therapeutics that enables precise and corrective molecular modification to treat the underlying cause of a broad range of diseases at the genetic level.
The company has generated substantial patent filings and has access to intellectual property covering foundational genome editing technologies, as well as essential advancements and enablements that will uniquely allow the company to translate early findings into viable human therapeutic products.
[Image of I heart genetic engineering from flickr user buelow]