Inscripta picks up Solana to commercialize gene-editing tools

CRISPR technology for genome editing (Source: AstraZeneca)
Inscripta is working to remove the cost barrier to CRISPR research by offering enzymes for free. It plans to make its money by selling reagents, instruments and software to CRISPR researchers. (AstraZeneca)

Inscripta will acquire Solana Biosciences to ramp up the commercialization of its gene-editing technology. The Boulder, Colorado-based biotech aims to broaden access to CRISPR by offering new enzymes for free, and to boost CRISPR research by outfitting scientists with a full suite of tools.

Solana was founded in 2017 by a group of former Illumina employees that includes Tom Rosso, who was vice president of operations at the sequencing giant. While at Illumina, this team created adaptable and scalable manufacturing operations, a skill set Inscripta wants to tap—it plans to expand its operations and to open a new site in San Diego.

Once the deal closes, Rosso will take over operations at Inscripta and head up its process development, technology transfer, manufacturing and operations teams. Financial details were not disclosed.

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The acquisition comes six months after Inscripta raised $55 million in series C funding to develop its gene-editing tools, expand its research capabilities and grow the team. The company has already released MAD7, is first CRISPR enzyme, which is available for R&D use without licensing fees and “reach-through royalties.” It’s also working on additional enzymes, reagents, instruments and software with multiple genome-editing applications.

Inscipta hopes that by removing CRISPR’s cost barrier, it will help “usher in a new generation of gene editing and biotech discoveries,” said CEO Kevin Ness when Inscripta closed its series C.

“The cost is back-breaking for a lot of ideas and there are small companies standing on the sidelines because they don’t have access [to CRISPR],” Ness said at the time.

But the impact of access to enzymes on research is unclear. Forbes reported in December that CRISPR pioneer George Church “says Harvard, Berkeley and Broad have made CRISPR Cas9 free for all researchers, and that tens of thousands of shipments have been made.” Nonetheless, offering enzymes for free is still surprising in a field where rivals have brought each other to court over the intellectual property rights to CRISPR.

RELATED: Editas stock jumps after Broad wins CRISPR patent fight

Giving enzymes away seems like a dubious business model, but Inscripta does collect a small royalty if companies use its enzymes for non-R&D purposes, such as in manufacturing, or using the enzyme as-is in a therapy. It also has a bespoke enzyme program, where it creates enzymes for customers who want them to have a specific property. But the real money is in its tools—the reagents, instruments and software. Inscripta’s long-term revenue will come from providing a complete solution to its customers.

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