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Gene-Editing Enzyme Start-Up Gains $65M

Crispr graphic

(LJNovaScotia, Pixabay)

12 Nov. 2020. A new company creating engineered enzymes for genome editing therapeutics is raising $65 million in its first venture funding round. Metagenomi in Emeryville, California is a two year-old enterprise, spun-off from an environmental and microbial biology lab at University of California in Berkeley.

Metagenomi designs synthetic enzymes for the genome-editing technique known as Crispr, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. Crispr is a process based on bacterial defense mechanisms that use RNA to identify and locate precise locations in DNA. Two of its pioneers, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, are the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry.

In Crispr, RNA molecules guide editing enzymes to specific genes needing repair, making it possible to address root causes of many diseases. These editing enzymes cut genomes and remove genes, which in most cases up to now is the enzyme Crispr-associated protein 9 or Cas9. As reported in Science & Enterprise, Cas9 can be an imprecise editing instrument, and genomics researchers are studying more compact and precise editing enzymes.

Metagenomi says it’s discovering new Crispr editing enzymes with a more systematic and comprehensive process. The company’s technology is adapted from research in the environmental and plant biology lab of Jillian Banfield at UC-Berkeley, a collaborator with campus colleague Jennifer Doudna. Banfield’s lab studies microbial biology, the basis of Crispr, using bioinformatics tools with large genomics and transcription databases representing billions of years of evolution to find new sources of genome editing enzymes.

Banfield is a scientific founder of Metagenomi with Brian Thomas, formerly the lab’s application development manager. Thomas is now the company’s CEO. The company says its discovery engine applies bioinformatics to discover microbial enzymes in nature as genome editing candidates. Metagenomi says it then uses cloud-based artificial intelligence tools to enhance natural enzymes to meet specific genome-editing needs.

“Metagenomi is accelerating innovation in gene editing technology to help patients with genetic diseases that are incurable today,” says Thomas in a company statement. “This means developing a vast database of gene editing capabilities to enable unprecedented therapeutic approaches.”

And, says the company, it so far tested hundreds of enzymes as genome editing candidates for therapeutics. In August, Vor Biopharma began assessing Metagenomi’s technology for its engineered blood-forming stem cells developed as cancer treatments.

Metagenomi is raising $65 million in its first venture funding round. According to technology business research company Crunchbase, Metagenomi began the funding round in February 2019, gaining nearly $26.4 million at that time. The additional financing, as well as the earlier funding, is led by Leaps by Bayer, the German drug maker’s venture funding arm. Humboldt Fund, a funder of early-stage scientific start-ups, is also leading the new funding. Joining the round are Sozo Ventures, Agent Capital, InCube Ventures, and HOF Capital.

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