Doudna's Intellia, Zhang's Aera the latest gene editing biotechs to lay off staff

Intellia Therapeutics is the latest gene editing biotech to downsize following a dismal year for the industry.

The CRISPR company is laying off 15% of its team after pausing exploratory research work, according to an announcement late Thursday, saying in a release that the decision followed a strategic review. It joins a list of other gene editing biotechs that downsized in the last year including the likes of Beam Therapeutics, Editas Medicine and CRISPR Therapeutics. 

A common thread across all of these companies is some of the biggest names in the gene editing research that led to the discovery of CRISPR. Intellia was founded by Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D.; CRISPR Tx by her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, Ph.D.; Editas by Feng Zhang, Ph.D. and George Church, Ph.D.; Beam by Zhang and David Liu, Ph.D. These are just a few of the scientific heavyweights that sit as scientific advisors and co-founders on these biotech companies. 

Intellia will now focus on advancing its two lead assets, NTLA-2001 and NTLA-2002. A phase 3 trial testing the NTLA-2001 in patients with ATTR amyloidoses with cardiomyopathy has been initiated with the first patient expected to be dosed in the first quarter. The company also plans to launch a second phase 3 trial this year assessing NTLA-2001 in patients with ATTR amyloidosis with polyneuropathy.

Treating ATTR with cardiomyopathy has proven tricky after Alnylam’s request to expand Onpattro’s use for the disease was rejected last October, giving Intellia a shot to make headway in the indication. BridgeBio is also working towards a treatment, with positive data posted last summer. It’s a race to join Pfizer’s Vyndaqel on the market. 

Intellia’s second-in-command asset, NTLA-2002, is aimed at patients with hereditary angioedema (HAE), a severe swelling condition caused by mutations to the SERPING1 gene. Intellia has completed dosing in the phase 2 portion of a phase 1/2 trial and expects to report initial data from that section this year. The Cambridge gene editor also plans to launch a phase 3 trial in patients with HAE in the second half of the year. 

Elsewhere in the solar system of genetic medicine companies, Aera Therapeutics laid off a quarter of its staff, a spokesperson confirmed Monday. The biotech only just emerged from stealth a year ago in February 2023 with $193 million. The cuts were first reported by STAT News

Aera was also founded by esteemed Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard scientist Feng Zhang, whose gene editing advancements have also lead to the creation of Sherlock Biosciences. A new Zhang-founded venture was unveiled earlier in the day, with Moonwalk Biosciences coming out of stealth with $57 million.

The two companies are among the first to disclose layoffs in the new year after 2023 proved to be devastating for employees across the biotech sector. A review of data compiled by Fierce Biotech found that the number of companies laying off staff rose 57% last year compared to 2022.