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Precision BioSciences Lands $26M for Gene-Editing Technology

Xconomy Raleigh-Durham — 

The idea of modifying genes is heralded by some as holding the potential for new therapies addressing rare, genetic diseases, or producing agricultural products with certain desirable characteristics. Precision BioSciences believes that its technology can beat out other emerging gene-editing technologies and it has closed on $25.6 million to prove it.

The Durham, NC, company’s oversubscribed Series A round was led by venBio, joined by Fidelity Biosciences, Amgen Ventures, Baxter Ventures, Osage University Partners, and The Longevity Fund. Precision Bio says the round also included two undisclosed “well-known public market investors.”

With the new financing, Precision Bio, which has so far used its technology to advance the research efforts of its biotechnology partners, is now aiming to use its gene-editing technology to develop its own products, CEO Matthew Kane says.

Kane says the company’s technology, called Arcus, offers advantages over two other gene-editing technologies that have not yet entered clinical trials but are attracting research and investor interest: TALEN and CRISPR/Cas9. TALEN stands for Transcription Activator-Like Nucleases. It’s an older technology and French company Cellectis last December signed a deal licensing its TALEN technology to Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) to develop new cancer immunotherapies.

CRISPR is shorthand for Clustered, Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats. The technology uses the Cas9 protein to make precise cuts in the genome, which then allows researchers to cut out or replace genes. Editas Medicine, based in Cambridge, MA, is using a CRISPR-based gene-editing technology to develop new therapies. In January, Novartis (NYSE: NVS) inked an exclusive license for CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology from Intellia Therapeutics, also based in Cambridge.

Kane says that the way Arcus targets genes offers more precision and flexibility compared with CRISPR and TALEN. Arcus roughly translates from Latin for bow and arrow. Flexible (bow), and specific (arrow) is what the company was trying to capture in naming its technology, Kane explains.

He adds that the company’s technology is protected by its own patented R&D, unlike other genome-editing technologies based on intellectual property from third parties. The CRISPR technology is currently embroiled in a patent fight over who invented it. The CRISPR technology, which employs bacteria’s defense mechanism against viruses, is based on modifications made that turn that mechanism into a gene modification tool. While The Broad Institute and MIT were awarded a CRISPR patent for work led by the Broad’s Feng Zhang, University of California, Berkeley, biochemist Jennifer Doudna, is fighting that award claiming her team was the first to invent CRISPR.

Precision Bio has been tangled in its own patent battles, which Kane concedes was a limiting factor in the company’s ability to raise money early on. The company was founded in 2006 based on technology licensed from … Next Page »

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