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Genome Editing Start-Up Secures $43M in First Round Funds

Feng Zhang

Feng Zhang (Broad Institute)

The Cambridge, Massachusetts start-up Editas Medicine, developing therapies based on new research in genome editing, gained $43 million in its first financing round. The funding was led by venture companies Flagship Ventures, Polaris Partners, and Third Rock Ventures, with participation from Partners Innovation Fund, the venture funding arm of  Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Editas Medicine develops therapies based on genome editing, the process of modifying the human genome to turn on or off any gene in the human body, particularly those causing disease. The company’s scientific founders believe their genomic editing technologies make it possible to create therapies that address the root cause of a range of diseases.

The company’s five founders are:

Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, 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 at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School

Jennifer Doudna, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology at University of California in Berkeley

Keith Joung, associate chief of pathology for research and associate pathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School

David Liu, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University.

Zhang, Church, and Doudna conduct research in genomics and invented some of the key technologies behind genome editing. Joung also studies genome editing and their translation into treatments for disease. Liu conducts research in protein evolution and biological engineering.

“Editas is optimizing and refining existing genome editing technology,” says Zhang in a company statement, “to create a versatile platform for the development of potential human therapeutics.” Among the genomic editing technologies developed by the founders are clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats or CRISPR that harnesses an associated protein called Cas9 to bind to specific RNA molecules. These RNA molecules then guide the Cas9 protein to the precise location in the genome needing repair. The repairs can deactivate a disease-causing gene, or slow the expression or alter the behavior of the gene.

Another genome-editing strategy at Editas Medicine is transcription activator-like effector nucleases or TALENs that introduce engineered restriction enzymes into cells to cut DNA strands at specific points in their sequence. These cuts, called double-strand breaks, can cause either further mutations or repair damaged sequences.

Editas Medicine’s funders are providing most of the company’s interim management. Kevin Bitterman, a principal at Polaris Partners, is serving as interim president, with Alexandra Glucksmann as chief operating officer, and  Lou Tartaglia, a partner at Third Rock Ventures, as chief scientific officer. The rest of the Editas Medicine board is represented by partners from Third Rock, Flagship, and Polaris.

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