Gene-editing startup Beam bags $135M in series B top-up

Beam Therapeutics has raised a healthy $135 million in second-round financing that will be used to advance its single-base approach to gene editing.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, biotech—which was one of our Fierce 15 winners last year—says the new funding will be used to expand its pipeline of development programs, refine its technology platforms and add to its headcount with additional “scientific and technical leadership.”

Beam’s take on CRISPR is that that its approach to the technology is more precise than other genome editing techniques and can target just one base—A, G, C or T—out of billions.

"Traditional" CRISPR-Cas9 editing cuts a whole gene to make a break in DNA or RNA, while the approach pioneered by one of Beam’s founder’s—David Liu, Ph.D., of Harvard University—directly converts a single base into another.

The hope is that it will be able to modify sequences without the risk of unintended, off-target effects that some researchers suggest could be an issue for CRISPR as well as other technologies such as TALEN and zinc finger nucleases.

With more than half of the genetic errors associated with disease resulting from a single-letter change in the bases that form the human genome, and some 33,000 point mutations already identified as being linked to genetic diseases, the potential applications of Beam’s platform are huge.

For now though, the biotech is continuing its policy of keeping its therapeutic targets under wraps, although it has revealed that its programs are split between ex vivo modification of cells that can act as therapeutics, and delivery of base editors that can modify genomes directly in the body.

“Since the launch of Beam last year, we have made significant progress toward our goal of developing base editors as a new class of precision genetic medicines,” says Beam’s CEO John Evans.

“We now have 10 active programs underway and have expanded our team to more than 70 employees.” The new cash will allow Beam to “continue to expand our team and capabilities, extend our leadership position in base editing technology, and move our pipeline towards clinical development,” he added.

The series B comes after a solid A-stage funding round of $87 million last year led by F-Prime Capital Partners and ARCH Venture Partners, which Beam said had already provided two to three years of operating cash.

The latest round includes new investors Redmile Group, Cormorant Asset Management, Altitude Life Science Ventures, with earlier backers F-Prime, ARCH, Eight Roads Ventures and Omega Funds contributing once again.