Bayer and Crispr Therapeutics have established a joint venture to use CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology to develop therapies to treat blood disorders, blindness, and congenital heart disease. Bayer will sink at least $300 million into R&D over the five-year pact and is taking a minority stake worth $35 million in CRISPR Therapeutics.
Like the “find and replace” function in Microsoft Word, the CRISPR/Cas9 system enables researchers to precisely snip out problematic stretches of DNA and swap in new genetic material. The potential to harness the technology to treat—or even cure—genetic diseases prompted a flurry of deal-making in 2015. The Bayer agreement is the largest commitment to date from a big pharma firm to CRISPR/Cas9 technology.
Crispr’s CEO, Rodger Novak, calls the deal “game changing.” The biotech firm has full rights to develop therapies based on delivery technologies and intellectual property created by the joint venture outside the three disease areas. Bayer, meanwhile, is allowed to use any jointly discovered technology for nonhuman applications.
Crispr was founded in 2013 based on intellectual property licensed from Emmanuelle Charpentier, one of three scientists associated with the discovery of the gene-editing system. The firm’s Bayer deal follows a sizable pact with Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which in October paid CRISPR Therapeutics $105 million to use its gene-editing technology to develop treatments for cystic fibrosis and sickle cell diseases. Celgene, meanwhile, contributed to the company’s last financing round.
The other two scientists considered inventors of the CRISPR/Cas9 system are Jennifer Doudna and Feng Zhang. Among the three scientists, four companies have been founded to exploit the technology. Caribou Biosciences and Intellia Therapeutics are associated with Doudna, and Zhang is a founder of Editas Medicine.