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Gene-Editing Biotech Acquires DNA Bar Code Company

DNA chip graphic

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

24 Feb. 2021. A developer of therapies using highly precise gene editing is acquiring a company delivering gene therapies identified with DNA bar codes. The merger with Beam Therapeutics Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts could bring shareholders of Guide Therapeutics Inc. in Atlanta as much as $440 million if all terms of the agreement are met.

Beam Therapeutics designs therapies for inherited diseases and blood-related cancers that edit and correct malfunctioning genes responsible for the condition. The company’s technology edits malfunctioning genes at more precise and granular level than most others, aiming for pairs of nucleic acids called base-pairs that make up DNA. Humans have about 3 billion pairs of nucleic acids — adenine (A) with thymine (T), and cytosine (C) with guanine (G) — with the sequence of these nucleic acid pairs comprising a person’s DNA or genetic code. When mutations or errors occur in the these nucleic acids, the errors are transcribed into faulty instructions provided to cells with RNA and the proteins that result from those instructions.

One type of DNA error is called a point mutation, where a single base-pair is replaced by another base-pair. Point mutations make up at least half of DNA errors associated with disease, including neurodegenerative, metabolic, and blood disorders, as well as some types of hearing and vision loss. Beam Therapeutics says its technology is designed to correct those base-pair errors, with advances in the genome editing technique known as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or Crispr.

While Beam Therapeutics focuses on precise editing for gene therapies, Guide Therapeutics develops techniques for more precise delivery of gene therapies. Guide’s technology designs lipid, or natural oil, nanoscale particles to match the type of genetic materials being delivered, as well as cell or tissue targets. For example, messenger RNA, or mRNA, used in Covid-19 vaccines by Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer needs a different lipid nanoparticle than small interfering RNA, or siRNA, for gene silencing treatments.

Technology licensed from academic lab

In addition, Guide Therapeutics gives each nanoparticle a unique identifier made from nucleic acids, similar to those used in DNA. The so-called DNA bar codes allow for screenings with many gene therapies at once, using genomic sequencing to locate and evaluate the performance of individual nanoparticles. The company says its techniques vastly accelerates in vivo data collection, from inside human or animal bodies, with gene therapies and provides an alternative to viruses for gene therapy delivery.

Giuseppe Ciaramella, Beam Therapeutics’ president and chief scientist, says in a company statement, “GuideTx’s capacity to execute rapid high throughput experiments can potentially identify the ideal delivery vehicle for reaching specific tissue types, which could lead to improved non-viral delivery technologies.”

The two year-old Guide Therapeutics licenses its technology from Georgia Tech, where James Dahlman, the company’s scientific founder, developed techniques for tagging nanoparticles with DNA bar codes. Science & Enterprise reported on publication of those techniques in February 2017. Dahlman is a director of Guide Therapeutics, while co-founder Cory Sago, formerly a graduate student in Dahlman’s lab, is the company’s chief technology officer.

Under the agreement, Guide Therapeutics stockholders are receiving $120 million in Beam Therapeutics shares as an initial payment. Guide’s shareholders are also eligible for another $320 million in technology and product development milestone payments, also paid in Beam Therapeutics common stock.

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