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Agenovir Gets $10.6M To Take on Viral Infections With CRISPR

Xconomy San Francisco — 

The gene editing system known as CRISPR-Cas9 has electrified the world of science and led to a slew of startups, including two—Editas Medicine and Intellia Therapeutics—that have already gone public. The latest to join the fray is Agenovir, a company incubated at Johnson & Johnson’s JLABS accelerator in South San Francisco that aims to use CRISPR technology to develop antiviral drugs.

Agenovir announced today that it’s raised $10.6 million in a round led by Data Collective. Summit, NJ-based cancer drugmaker Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) also participated in the round, marking its second investment in a CRISPR company, following its 2015 backing of CRISPR Therapeutics. Lightspeed Venture Partners and other unnamed individuals and investors also provided the cash, the company wrote in a press release. Agenovir says it plans to use CRISPR-Cas9 and other methods to try to disrupt viral DNA, hoping to treat and eliminate diseases caused by latent or persistent viral infections that currently have no treatment. It didn’t specify these diseases, or say how far away its experimental treatments are from clinical testing.

The company’s founding CEO, Bruce Hironaka, said in the statement that the company plans to use the cash to hire a leadership team and push its research forward. Hironaka is on the company’s board with Data Collective co-founder Matt Ocko and William Smith, the general counsel for Fluidigm (NASDAQ: FLDM).

Agenovir is based on the work of scientific founder Stephen Quake, a Stanford University bioengineering professor. Quake used Agenovir’s approach to treat cells infected with Epstein–Barr virus, which can lead to a type of cancer called Burkitt lymphoma (as well as mono), in a study published in PNAS.

Agenovir’s scientific advisory board includes Quake and a few other well-known names: MIT’s Robert Langer, Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) co-founder and former Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center president Larry Corey, and Edward Mocarski, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University.

Agenovir is the latest in a growing group of companies using CRISPR technology to develop drugs. Editas (NASDAQ: EDIT) and Intellia Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NTLA), both based in Cambridge, MA, have already gone public. CRISPR Therapeutics could be next, and Caribou Biosciences, also from the San Francisco Bay Area, just raised a $30 million Series B round earlier this week. The technology—a method of performing genetic surgery—is the subject of a lot of hype, but is still in its early days and has a lot of hurdles to clear before it becomes more than just a research tool.