Editas rewrites its own code after tough 2022, sending staff packing and editing down programs

Editas is taking the red pen to its pipeline after a tough 2022 that saw the gene editing biotech cut a lead asset due to disappointing data—and the changes are going to mean more than a little rewrite.

The edits will see a 20% cut in staff as well as the departure of Chief Scientific Officer Mark Shearman, Ph.D. Editas will discontinue work in inherited retinal diseases and its preclinical wholly owned iNK programs. The moves will extend the company’s cash runway into 2025. Editas reported $478.5 million in cash and equivalents as of September 30, 2022.

Editas will now focus on hemoglobinopathies and in vivo gene editing, meaning sickle cell and transfusion-dependent beta thalassemia treatment EDIT-301 will get the star treatment. The biotech had already zeroed in on this asset late last year after dropping EDIT-101 for the severe eye disease leber congenital amaurosis 10 after the candidate did not live up to expectations in the clinic.

Also on the cutting room floor is EDIT-103 for rhodopsin-associated autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa. Editas will look for partnerships for its inherited retinal disease program, which includes EDIT-101.

Editas is also walking away from wholly owned multiplexed edited induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) derived natural killer (iNK) cell programs, which includes EDIT-202 for solid tumors. But the company will consider partnerships for the iNK franchise.

The biotech is making these adjustments to pursue programs that “have maximum probabilities of technical, regulatory, and commercial success,” according to the Jan. 9 release.

Regarding the staff changes, Editas is embarking on a shake-up of its research organization, which will be split into two divisions. One will focus on drug discovery for in vivo target identification, therapeutic asset creation and translational research, while the other will pursue advanced technology for in vivo targeted integration and targeted delivery.

Work will continue on Editas’ partnered work, including the alpha-beta T-cell medicines being developed with Bristol Myers Squibb and the Immatics N.V. partnership for gamma-delta T-cell medicines.

“I am excited about our new strategic direction, and I strongly believe that refocusing our business around hemoglobinopathies and in vivo gene editing will best position the company to pursue our mission to deliver revolutionary medicines for people living with serious diseases,” said CEO Gilmore O’Neill. “Though this includes making very difficult decisions, we believe more patients will ultimately benefit from our refined discovery and development efforts, our enhanced clinical execution and, most importantly, from our ability to bring these transformative medicines to the market.”

The executive took the helm last year, coming from Sarepta, and was immediately confronted with major pipeline decisions after the lackluster EDIT-101 results.

Shearman will depart as of March 31, and Editas has already begun the search for a new chief scientific officer. The company is specifically looking for a person with “a strong translational technology background” to work on discovery efforts for novel in vivo medicines.