Moderna's latest genomics move sees it team up with Life Edit to develop new gene editing therapies

One of Moderna's New Year's resolutions appears to have been to expand its genomics output. The latest move in this area sees the mRNA company pen a partnership with ElevateBio’s Life Edit Therapeutics with the aim of developing next-gen gene editing therapies for hard-to-treat diseases.

Over the past few years, Moderna has raked in a mountain of cash from its successful COVID vaccine Spikevax and is now funneling some of those funds into gene medicine. The company even created a genomics arm to harness its RNA delivery platform for creating in vivo gene editing therapeutics, as well as using its first acquisition to bring on board OriCiro Genomics in January. 

Now, the Big Biotech is combining its mRNA platform with Life Edit’s suite of gene editing tools to go after a set of unnamed therapeutic targets. While specific financial details weren’t disclosed, Life Edit will receive an upfront payment and Moderna will fund joint research and preclinical studies.

If Moderna chooses to exercise its optioning rights for these targets, the company will take over further development, manufacturing and commercialization responsibilities, with Life Edit eligible for milestone and royalty payments.

“We think it's a very robust deal without the financials being specified,” ElevateBio’s CEO David Hallal told Fierce Biotech.

As for the targets at the center of the deal, the CEO said both companies are “well aware of what it is we're going to focus on.”

“We've developed our research and preclinical plans between the two teams that starts immediately through funding from Moderna,” Hallal said. “But we believe, for competitive reasons, it makes a lot of sense for us to not disclose all of the exciting areas that we're working on together.”

Life Edit’s gene editing platform includes a large library of base editors and RNA-guided nucleases (RGNs). The RGNs are smaller than other conventional nucleases—such as those currently used for CRISPR-Cas9—which could boost versatility for delivery.

The company's nuclease collection features a range of protospacer adjacent motifs, which allow for base editing at more sites than one nuclease alone could achieve.

The platform’s breadth drew ElevateBio to Life Edit. After buying 60% of the company, ElevateBio put down money for the remainder of the business in fall of 2021. Hallal says they “built instead of bought” Life Edit, growing it from a five-person team to over 70 employees today.

“We built the company to power the entire cell and gene therapy industry forward,” the ElevateBio CEO said. “I would call it almost a ‘spin-in’ because of how central a gene editing platform is to our overall ambition as the world's leading technology company in the cell and gene therapy space.”

The Moderna deal isn’t the first partnership for Life Edit since coming under ElevateBio’s wing, though it is the first to be publicly disclosed, according to Hallal. The private company has made nonexclusive licensing deals and pacts in the ex vivo space and may disclose more information about those in the future, the CEO said.

As for ElevateBio, the tech-driven company based in Massachusetts is growing industry collaborations while also developing its own portfolio of cell and gene medicines.  

Notably, the biotech’s first portfolio company AlloVir posted early evidence last week that its lead prospect works in solid organ transplant patients. The readout came from a phase 2 trial and suggests AlloVir has a shot at expanding beyond its initial focus on stem cell transplants. The unit has already taken the candidate, an off-the-shelf, multivirus-specific T-cell therapy dubbed posoleucel, into phase 3 trials in three indications for allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant patients.