Amgen, Fidelity help bankroll another upstart gene-editing player with $25.6M A round

The wave of cash that has been lifting all boats in the gene-editing pool has now raised a new biotech into view. Precision BioSciences, a Duke spinout focused on competing in the fractious and rapidly growing field, has grabbed a $25.6 million A round with the help of some A-list investors.

The venture raise for Precision BioSciences was led by venBio, which was joined by Fidelity Biosciences, Amgen Ventures ($AMGN), Baxter Ventures ($BAX), Osage University Partners, the Longevity Fund, and "two well-known public market investors." Their money will be used to develop a unique gene-editing platform--dubbed ARCUS--which blends some of the advantages of CRISPR and TALEN with the pluses involved in homing endonucleases.

CEO Matthew Kane says the company set out to raise the investment round last summer and found plenty of interested parties exploring the field.

"We're an older genome editing company with the latest genome-editing technology," says Kane. "ARCUS is a fully synthetic nuclease that we've developed here at Precision to overcome some of the key hurdles faced by the earlier technologies."

This money gives Precision the resources needed to expand on its staff of 18. Kane expects the roster to grow to 35 to 45 by the end of next year, with this A-round funding operations for at least the next two years-plus. The CEO says there are also some partnerships in the works.

"We've been approached by a number of groups," the CEO says, adding that there are a variety of ways to apply this technology.

Jennifer Doudna Emmanuelle Charpentier

Up until now, most of the attention in the field has largely been focused on a small cluster of gene-editing startups that trace their technologies back to some pioneering CRISPR-Cas9 scientific work done by Emmanuelle Charpentier and UC Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna. Charpentier went on to help found CRISPR Therapeutics, which just days ago landed a whopping $64 million round. Doudna founded Caribou and initially backed the rival Editas before splitting away to help launch Intellia, now partnered with Novartis ($NVS).

Sangamo was one of the original pioneers in the field, developing its zinc-finger nuclease technology as a gene editing tool. TALEN, transcription activator-like effector nucleases, came along next as a more versatile technology, which CRISPR-Cas9 hopes to trump with a new generation of therapies aimed at editing out diseases.

Research Triangle Park, NC-based Precision claims that it has an even better platform that relies on some homegrown IP, avoiding the path of in-licensing third party technology.

The scrum of new players has sparked plenty of friction outside the lab. Doudna and Charpentier are closely linked with UC Berkeley's recent challenge to the patents that Editas is working with.

Precision BioSciences CEO Matthew Kane

Precision is helmed by Duke graduate and CEO Kane and scientific officer Derek Jantz, who worked at Duke and once served a stint as a research associate at Sangamo, according to a short bio from Bloomberg. Jantz and his team won the $15,000 runner-up prize in Duke's 2006 startup challenge contest, boasting of the "only method to target and alter single DNA sequences in a genome."

"Precision has a disruptive technology in ARCUS that should yield dramatic improvements in gene editing," said Robert Adelman, a partner at venBio who is joining the board. He'll be joined by Ben Auspitz from Fidelity, who also recently helped come up with a $65 million round to back the gene therapy startup Dimension Therapeutics.

- here's the release