Celgene backs $10.6M funding round for CRISPR antiviral biotech Agenovir

Lab work

The J&J incubated Californian biotech Agenovir has raised $10.6 million in its first Series A funding round as it looks to advance work on the hot ticket science of CRISPR/Cas9 in its antiviral research.

The small South San Francisco company, which uses computationally-engineered nuclease tech to develop novel antiviral therapeutics, saw its Series A led by Data Collective--with extra cash also coming from Celgene ($CELG) and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Agenovir was founded on technology developed in the laboratory of Stephen Quake, professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics, Stanford University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The company is using CRISPR/Cas9 and other nucleases designed, engineered, and simulated in silico at massive scale to disrupt intracellular viral DNA. It sits within Johnson & Johnson’s ($JNJ) JLABS @ SSF hub, one of 6 in North America that incubates young startups in their first few years.

The biotech is working on the theory that by interfering at the level of DNA, it may be possible to treat and eliminate persistent viral reservoirs--for which there are no current treatments.

As a proof of concept, the company has generated data for several viruses that demonstrate infection-specific cell death following delivery of nucleases to human cells, but has not yet tested this in the clinic.

“With this financing led by top-tier venture, corporate and individual investors, we expect to build an exceptional leadership team and accelerate our research and development programs to treat diseases associated or caused by latent or persistent viral reservoirs,” said Bruce Hironaka, founding CEO and director of Agenovir.

CRISPR/Cas9 uses new technology to slice and splice DNA, and it’s been sweeping academic labs around the world. Big Pharma, Big biotech and small biotech companies alike are also all looking to get it on this new class of therapy.

Bayer has signed several deals in the past 6 months into this space, with Celgene, Regeneron ($REGN) Cambridge, MA-based Editas ($EDIT), Cellectis ($CLLS) of Paris and Sangamo Biosciences ($SMGO) of Richmond, CA, as well as CRISPR Therapeutics and Intellia Therapeutics, just some of the names gunning for glory in this new research space.

- check out the release