- High-profile gene editing startup Beam Therapeutics has acquired Guide Therapeutics, a developer of tools used to deliver genetic medicines into cells, in a $120 million all-stock deal that capitalizes on the recent run-up of Beam's share price.
- The acquisition, which Beam completed on Tuesday, centers on technology Guide has developed to more efficiently shuttle gene editing therapies to target tissues inside the body. Guide investors could receive as much as $320 million more in Beam stock should its technology succeed and hit certain unspecified milestones.
- Launched in May 2018, Beam is working on more precise forms of gene editing developed by Harvard University's David Liu and by Feng Zhang, a CRISPR pioneer and member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Shares in the company have soared since October, boosting its valuation to more than $5 billion.
Beam is less than three years from its official launch and is still months away from testing its first medicine in humans, making the $120 million deal for Guide a notable acquisition this early on.
The deal is well-timed, however, leveraging the nearly five-fold jump in Beam's stock price to acquire Guide for much fewer shares than would have been needed to muster the upfront value last fall.
Guide, which spun out of Georgia Tech in 2018, will add to the technologies Beam can use to deliver its gene editing therapies. Guide has focused on lipid nanoparticles, which have gained attention recently as components in the coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna. The fatty globules can protect genetic material — whether it's messenger RNA coding for the coronavirus spike protein or the base editing machinery used by Beam — from being degraded when delivered into the body.
Guide's innovation is tagging these lipid nanoparticles with a DNA "barcode" that allows researchers to study how they're distributed throughout a tissue or organ. In theory, this approach could help Beam select and design particles that more efficiently reach a given target, and potentially aid efforts to pursue gene therapy applications outside of the liver.
"GuideTx's capacity to execute rapid high throughput experiments can potentially identify the ideal delivery vehicle for reaching specific tissue types, which could lead to improved nonviral delivery technologies," said Giuseppe Ciaramella, Beam's chief scientific officer, in a statement.
Beam is already working with lipid nanoparticles, having disclosed research programs aimed at alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and glycogen storage disorder 1a, both rare diseases affecting the liver.
The company's most advanced programs, in sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia, use electroporation to insert base editing tools into cells extracted from patients. Beam aims to formally ask the Food and Drug Administration for permission to begin its first clinical trial in humans later this year.
Beam shares fell roughly 13%, to $95 apiece, after the deal was announced. Shares were worth $23.50 when the biotech held its initial stock offering last September.