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Genome Editing Biotech Raises $126M in IPO

NASDAQ share price display

(Julien Gong Min, Flickr)

28 Mar. 2019. A biotechnology company developing treatments for disease and enhanced agricultural products with genome editing is raising $126 million in its initial public offering, or IPO, of common stock. Precision Biosciences in Durham, North Carolina trades on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol DTIL, short for “dedicated to improving life”.

Precision Biosciences’ basic technology is called Arcus, a genome-editing system for medical and agricultural applications using the company’s own synthetic enzymes. Precision Bio produces these enzymes, known as homing endonucleases to zero-in on specific DNA sequences, usually those with long strings of 12 to 40 base pairs that occur on rare occasions in the genome. The enzymes are small in size, says the company, making them precise editing tools, minimizing off-target breaks. Its homing endonucleases, says Precision Bio, can also perform various editing tasks at the target site, including insertions and changes, as well as deletions.

The company applies Arcus to cancer immunotherapies by genetically engineering genes in T-cells from the immune system. With these edits, receptors are added to proteins coded by those genes, making T-cells better able to hunt down and attack antigen targets on tumors. Arcus edits out genes that make the engineered T-cells provoke attacks from the recipient’s immune system or attack healthy tissue. And the Arcus edits add in genes that identify and respond to specific antigen targets on tumors. Moreover, Precision Bio uses T-cells donated from healthy individuals, rather than a patient’s own T-cells, which the company says make the treatments safer for patients and more efficient to produce than editing genes in a patient’s own T-cells.

Precision Bio uses Arcus to treat other disorders, including infectious diseases. As reported by Science & Enterprise in September 2018, the company is collaborating with drug maker Gilead Sciences on a hepatitis-B treatment that could bring Precision Bio at least $445 million. The deal calls for Gilead and Precision Bio to identify characteristic targets for hepatitis-B, a life-threatening viral infection of the liver, which if it becomes chronic, can cause cirrhosis — scarring of liver tissue — and liver cancer. The company is expected to develop, produce, and test enzymes that with Arcus edit out the characteristic DNA patterns associated with hepatitis-B.

In addition, Precision Bio formed a subsidiary known as Elo Life Systems, which applies Arcus to food crops, such as lowering saturated fat in canola oil, and producing fragrances from plants. With Arcus, the company edits plant genomes to delete genes associated with harmful traits or restore natural defenses affected by in-breeding or previous genetic engineering gone bad. Regulatory authorities in some cases, says the company, accept these types of genome edits that do not introduce genes from foreign species.

In its IPO yesterday, Precision Bio issued 7,900,000 shares of common stock at $16.00 a share, raising $126.4 million. As of 3:00 pm ET today, Precision Bio shares sell at $17.58, an increase of 9.9 percent. In comparison, the Nasdaq composite index is up 0.3 percent and Nasdaq Biotechnology Index gained 0.4 percent from yesterday.

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