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Genome Editing Company Licenses University Technologies

George Church

George Church (Wyss Institute, Harvard University)

1 December 2014. Editas Medicine, a Cambridge, Massachusetts start-up, licensed technologies developed by the company’s scientific founders and others that allow for editing the human genome to create new therapies. Financial terms of the exclusive licensing deals with Harvard University, MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Duke University were not disclosed.

Editas Medicine, founded in 2013, aims to create therapies with the ability to turn off and on and repair genes causing disease. The company’s technology harnesses discoveries including clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and related CRISPR-associated protein 9, known as CRISPR/Cas9. With CRISPR/Cas9, the Cas9 protein binds to targeted RNA molecules generated by the human genome. The RNA molecules then guide Cas9 proteins to specific genes needing repair, making it possible to address root causes of many diseases.

The company’s core technology also includes transcription activator-like effector nucleases or TALENs, programmable proteins that bind to DNA sequences and like CRISPR/Cas9 can address specific targets in the human genome. Editas says the combination of CRISPR/Cas9 and TALENs makes it possible to knock out, minimize, or selective edit defective genes.

In the agreement with Harvard University and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Editas is licensing the work of George Church and David Liu of Harvard and Feng Zhang and the Broad Institute, all of whom are founders of Editas. Church studies genome engineering at Harvard’s Wyss Institute and medical school, and was an early participant in the Human Genome Project beginning in 1984.

Liu is a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard, and associated as well with the Broad Institute. Zhang conducts research on molecular engineering related to the brain and cognitive sciences at the Broad Institute and MIT.

Editas’s agreement with Massachusetts General Hospital covers research by J. Keith Joung, also a company founder. Joung is director of Mass General’s molecular pathology unit and professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, where he studies synthetic proteins that bind to DNA, a key part of TALENs technology.

The deal with Duke University licenses research in molecular and cellular engineering by Charles Gersbach that combines genetic reprogramming, protein engineering, and synthetic biology. Editas cites Gersbach’s work with the genetic disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy as one of the potential applications for gene editing techniques.

Editas raised $43 million in its first funding round in November 2013. The company’s first venture financiers are Flagship Ventures, Polaris Partners, and Third Rock Ventures.

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