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New CRISPR Startup from Feng Zhang Revealed

Xconomy Boston — 

[Updated 4/28/18, 11:30 a.m. See below.] With all the buzz this week about the new CRISPR diagnostic startup from the University of California, Berkeley lab of Jennifer Doudna, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that news of another CRISPR startup—this one associated with another CRISPR pioneer, Feng Zhang—is now coming out.

The Boston Business Journal reports today that Zhang of the Broad Institute has co-founded Beam Therapeutics and that the company has raised the first $13 million of a Series A round of financing. The article cites Pitchbook for the dollar figure. However, Pitchbook lists David Liu of the Broad Institute and Harvard University as the founder and Zhang as a board member. [Updated with additional information from Pitchbook.]

A Beam spokesperson declined to comment for the article. But the article cites a source who said that Beam will focus on base-editing, which is a modified version of the CRISPR gene-editing technology that allows scientists to edit individual letters of the genetic code. It promises to be an even more precise way to edit the genome.

Beam is the latest company to enter an increasingly crowded field. Doudna’s company, Mammoth Biosciences, is working on a CRISPR-based, low-cost diagnostic. The Broad has its own diagnostic that it’s looking to license for use mainly in the developing world. Zhang has cofounded two other companies: Arbor Biotechnologies, which announced in March that it had discovered a new kind of CRISPR RNA-editing enzyme called Cas13d. The higher-profile company of Zhang’s is Editas Medicine (NASDAQ:EDIT), which is racing with two other companies, Intellia Therapeutics (NASDAQ:NTLA), and CRISPR Therapeutics (NASDAQ:CRSP), to test its CRISPR gene-editing therapies in humans.

You can ask Zhang yourself about Beam at our upcoming event, What’s Hot in Boston Biotech, on May 16 at the Broad Institute, where he’ll be speaking about gene editing’s next frontier: human trials.