Dr. George Church, is a Professor of Genetics at Harvard and widely considered to be a pioneer in synthetic biology. In previous articles we have highlighted companies he is involved in including genome interpretation company Knome which he co-founded and Joule, a synthetic biology company producing diesel fuel and ethanol directly from sunlight, where he sits as a technical adviser. Another company in which George Church co-founded, Editas, has recently started coming out of stealth mode and is looking to edit, remove or fix genes in human cells.
Founded in 2013, Boston based Editas has taken in $43 million in Series A venture capital financing led by leading health care venture capital firms Flagship Ventures, Polaris Partners and Third Rock Ventures with participation from Partners Innovation Fund. Editas was founded by five world leaders in the fields of genome editing, protein engineering, and molecular and structural biology; George Church, Feng Zhang, Jennifer A. Doudna, J. Keith Joung, and David R. Liu.
Just this past week, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard were awarded a key patent covering CRISPR, a new way of making precise, targeted changes to the genome of a cell or an organism. First used for genome editing in 2012, CRISPR is one of the most important genetic technologies developed in recent years. According to an article a few days ago by the MIT Technology Review, MIT, Harvard, and the Broad all jointly own the CRISPR patents. The Broad Institute’s technology licensing office will manage decisions about who will get licenses to use the technology. This should bode well for Editas since Fang Zheng, co-founder of Editas, is a core member of the Broad Institute. The article also mentioned that a spokesperson from Broad said that “specific details around licensing aren’t available at this time, but that Broad does intend to make this technology broadly available to scientists.” Editas is also working with a similar gene editing method called TALENS. A comparison of three gene editing techniques can be seen below:
In another MIT Technology Review article late last year, George Church stated that the technology’s ability to change single base pairs enables fundamentally new ways of thinking about gene therapy. Many inherited diseases, including cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia, are caused by single base pair changes to the DNA sequence of genes, and the precise CRISPR technology could correct these mutations in patients. Editas has not made much mention about which diseases they plan to target first but their first rounding fund should give them plenty of capital to establish some suitable targets.