CAR-T powerhouse Juno allies with gene-editing upstart Editas in $737M deal

One of the leaders of the CAR-T revolution has now aligned itself in an R&D collaboration with one of the top biotechs to emerge in the hot gene editing field. Juno Therapeutics is tying the knot with Editas on three programs, handing over $47 million in an upfront payment and three years of research support along with up to $690 million in milestones.

The two cutting-edge biotechs billed this collaboration as a way to team up on CAR-T and TCR technology--in which Juno is reengineering T cells into weapons to attack cancer--along with Editas' CRISPR/Cas 9 technology used to perform genetic surgery that can redesign DNA.

For Juno CEO Hans Bishop, it's a way to get a jump start on an expected second and third wave of therapies, as developers look to add new safety mechanisms and broaden the scope of a new generation of promising cancer therapies.

Juno CEO Hans Bishop

"Editas' disruptive genome editing technology may unlock the ability of CAR T and TCR technologies to address a much wider range of cancers," says Bishop in a statement, "giving hope to countless patients and families waiting for treatments."   

2014 Fierce 15 company Juno is paying Editas $25 million for an upfront payment and $22 million for the research support at Editas. Each program in the pact will also be tied to up to $230 million in milestones.

Juno only recently settled a squabble with Novartis ($NVS) and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania over ownership of the T cell tech they both work with, earning a royalty on the pharma giant's drugs. But Editas still faces a showdown with rivals at Intellia, Caribou and CRISPR Therapeutics over the IP used in gene editing.

Jennifer Doudna, a UC Berkeley structural biologist and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, did some of the pioneering work on gene editing with Emmanuelle Charpentier. Doudna launched Caribou and was one of the original founders of Editas before splitting away and backing the upstart Intellia. MIT's Feng Zhang signed on and stayed on with the Editas group, which is now defending its patents against a challenge from the University of California. And UC represents both Doudna and Charpentier, who helped found the newly financed biotech CRISPR Therapeutics, which is setting up its research group in Cambridge, MA.

No one, though, wants to wait for the dust to settle on this legal scrap before pushing ahead with new therapies. The emphasis now is on building a durable pipeline of promising new therapies as rapidly as possible. The lawyers can weigh in later.

- here's the release

Special Reports: The 25 most influential people in biopharma in 2015 - Hans Bishop - Juno Therapeutics - Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier - Caribou Biosciences, CRISPR Therapeutics | FierceBiotech's 2014 Fierce 15 - Juno Therapeutics