Pharma heavyweight Novartis has stepped in to help bankroll Berkeley, CA-based Caribou Biosciences, one of the upstart leaders in the race to develop the cutting-edge CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. The pharma giant joined a group of backers that includes Fidelity Biosciences, Mission Bay Capital, and 5 Prime as well as company founder Jennifer Doudna, a key player among a small group of investigators which has spawned a lineup of closely watched biotechs.
All together the group, which was also joined by an unnamed investor, provided $11 million in an A round to Caribou, which plans to use the cash to further advance technology spotlighted in projects at the University of California and the University of Vienna.
Doudna and her colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier, who also ventured out to start her own company, recently won the coveted Breakthrough Prize for their work with CRISPR-Cas9. Caribou co-founded Intellia, which went on to strike a landmark collaboration with the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, MA. And the pharma giant--well known for its willingness to move fast and open its check book to new technologies--also helped seed the Atlas-based Intellia.
Novartis didn't offer any numbers about the Intellia partnership. But it did spell out its interest in using the work at Intellia Therapeutics on chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) and hematopoietic stem cells with a broad interest in developing gene therapies.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a small but highly contentious field. Doudna, a structural biologist from Berkeley, was originally credited as a cofounder of Editas, another CRISPR-Cas9 player, before splitting away. She worked on gene editing with Charpentier, who threw her support behind CRISPR Therapeutics in Switzerland while MIT's Feng Zhang joined the Editas group. Their work is at a very early stage, but their story of reengineering genes has swiftly captured the attention of the industry. If the DNA-splicing technology works as the pioneers claim it does, the startups in the field are in the opening stages of making some major breakthroughs. But there has also been visible tension among the founding scientists over who owns the IP involved.
"CRISPR-Cas9 technology for gene editing is one of the most promising areas of scientific research today and Caribou, through its early work and its initial partnerships, has been a leader in this rapidly emerging field," remarked Robert Weisskoff, a partner at Fidelity Biosciences and newly appointed member of Caribou's Board of Directors. "We look forward to helping support the company as it continues to translate the promise of its platform across the enormously broad spectrum of commercial applications."
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