Biotech pioneer in 'gene editing' launches with $43M in VC cash

Kevin Bitterman, Polaris Partners' principal and Editas interim President

Three of the industry's leading discovery-stage venture groups have come up with a $43 million commitment to back a crew of marquee thinkers in the genomics field to launch Editas Medicine, a biotech exploratory vehicle that will set out to pioneer a new field of drug development. And they're already fielding queries from some potential collaborators interested in staking out a claim of their own to see how this platform will take shape.

Talk about cutting-edge technology. Cambridge, MA-based Editas is focused on gene editing, what Polaris Partners' principal and Editas interim President Kevin Bitterman refers to as molecular surgery. The work centers on the discovery of the CRISPR/Cas system, in which a host bacterial cell incorporates short bursts of DNA sequences from invaders that can trigger disease. It's been described as an adaptive immune system and investigators have been fascinated by the therapeutic potential of splicing DNA with their own custom-designed sequences to correct a gene, essentially rewriting genetic coding in the body in order to fix what ails it.

"We think we're going to lead the way," Bitterman tells FierceBiotech. "We're making the big jump out of bacterium, where this machinery was discovered. And there's now a growing body of proof-of-concept that you can broadly target genes. We have the ability to essentially target any gene in the genome. And we have in our crosshairs any diseases with a genetic component. We can go in and fix the error."

Feng Zhang, assistant professor at MIT

Editas brings together some of the field's top scientists. There's George Church, David Liu and Keith Joung from Harvard, MIT's Feng Zhang, Jennifer Doudna from UC Berkeley, and more. And it also brought together three venture groups--Polaris, Third Rock and Flagship--which all found themselves exploring the idea of starting their own pioneers before concluding that they could do more in an alliance.

"There's a pretty large universe we can look at," says Bitterman. The VCs involved will now assemble a team of about 30 to operate the company, gathering the technology needed to operate the platform and go after the company's first programs. And while there's already a plan in place to go after specific disease targets, Bitterman is keeping the details of that plan close to his vest as they begin to follow up on some early feelers from the Big Pharma community about striking preclinical alliances.

"Advances in genome editing have opened the door for an entirely new and promising approach to treating disease by correcting causative errors directly in a patient's genome," says Zhang. "Editas is optimizing and refining existing genome editing technology to create a versatile platform for the development of potential human therapeutics."

- here's the press release

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