Google Ventures part of $120m investment in CRISPR medicine
The $120m funding round from a large group of public and private investors, will go towards expanding Editas’ gene-editing platform for multiple disease programmes.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a tool which allows modification of human DNA, using an enzyme called Cas9 attached to an RNA molecule which guides it to a particular genome sequence.
When the Cas9 protein reaches its target, it can directly turn on or off disease-causing genes. The technology is more sophisticated and precise than other “knock-out” methods.
Editas’ investor syndicate is led by Boris Nikolic, former chief science and technology advisor to Bill Gates at his private office, bgC3, and at the Gates Foundation, where Nikolic selected investment projects in life sciences and health.
He is now an Editas board members, as well as MD of nb0, a US investment company founded specifically to fund Editas Medicine.
Google Ventures is another of the investors, as well as Deerfield Management, Viking Global Investors, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Jennison Associates (on behalf of clients), Khosla Ventures, EcoR1 Capital, Casdin Capital, Omega Funds , Cowen Private Investments and Alexandria Venture Investments.
Editas’ founding investors, Flagship Ventures, Polaris Partners, Third Rock Ventures, and Partners Innovation Fund, also participated in this round of financing.
So far much pharmaceutical investment in CRISPR technology has focused on preclinical R&D – such as offering a gene library to screen early drug candidates.
But drug companies are beginning to consider clinical applications: last November Novartis funded a company developing CRISPR as a therapeutic tool in itself.
The new firm, Intellia Therapeutics, is working on ex vivo use – removing cells from a patient, editing them, and returning them – and more ambitious in vivo use – editing genes while they are still in the body.
But before anyone can use the technology clinically, science needs to agree on the moral and legal questions that come with permanently altering human DNA in a way that offspring can inherit.
Earlier this year, prominent genomics experts called for a public debate about the risks and consequences of the CRISPR, as happened in the 70s over recombinant DNA.