CRISPR player Intellia looks IPO-ready after $70M round

Intellia's John Leonard

Late last year, Atlas Venture joined hands with Novartis ($NVS) to launch gene-editing upstart Intellia and then swiftly followed up with a formal alliance to use CRISPR/Cas9 tech to fashion a new wave of therapeutics. Now, just 8 months after the pact, Intellia has gone back to the well, drawing up $70 million in cash from a group which includes some active crossover investors that have been instrumental in shepherding a flock of biotechs into the busy IPO market.

OrbiMed HealthCare Fund Management led the round, with help from Fidelity Management and Research Company, Janus Capital Management, Foresite Capital, Sectoral Asset Management, EcoR1 Capital and other unidentified leading investors. Founding investor Atlas Venture and Novartis also pitched in.

There are some things we do know about Intellia. Novartis bought in to Intellia--as well as Caribou, which out-licensed some pioneering CRISPR tech created by Jennifer Doudna at UC Berkeley--with a clear interest in tapping the science for its ambitious CAR-T work reengineering T cells into cancer weapons. John Leonard was wooed in from the Big Pharma world, after a stint in charge of R&D at AbbVie ($ABBV). And gene editing--deleting, repairing and inserting genetic information to correct an ailment--has what is widely viewed as a potent future in devising a new generation of potential cures.

"CRISPR/Cas9 technology has potential to transform medicine by addressing previously untreatable genetic targets and serving as the basis for new and better therapies," said Leonard in a statement. "This novel technology could potentially eliminate many severely disabling and life-threatening diseases for patients."

But after the Big Vision, detailed insights into the company's plans can be hard to glean. Asked about the apparent likelihood of an IPO in the offing, CEO Nessan Bermingham declined comment.

Specific therapeutic programs? Not disclosed.

Timelines for getting into the clinic? That would be premature, says the CEO.

For a new, preclinical technology with a disputed provenance that pits Doudna and her CRISPR colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier in a challenge focused on patents held by rival Editas, which just raised its own $120 million crossover round, discretion appears to be the better part of valor in laying the foundation for a new company.

In the absence of any insights from Intellia, Editas would seem to be the closest to the clinic now. And all of the pioneers have enjoyed raising some jaw-dropping sums over the past year.

In the meantime, Bermingham says that a group of fewer than 40 staffers continues to grow. Just don't ask them what they're working on.

- here's the release