Editas' CEO exit sparks investor fears
- Editas Medicine CEO Katrine Bosley will leave her role as head of the CRISPR gene editing biotech in March, departing the company she's led for the past four and a half years at a crucial moment in its development.
- Bosley, who joined on as CEO shortly after Editas' creation in late 2013, has brought the biotech to the cusp of launching a landmark clinical study of in vivo CRISPR-based genome editing. The planned Phase 1/2 trial, testing an Editas gene therapy in patients with an inherited retinal degenerative disorder, is set to begin later this year.
- Bosley's departure, announced Tuesday morning, came as a surprise to Wall Street and spurred a stock sell-off that erased about a fifth of the company's market value. Sharp stock drops that later reverse are not uncommon for CRISPR-focused biotechs like Editas. But Tuesday's news follows previously announced exits of the company's chief medical and chief financial officers, possibly contributing to investor worries over Editas' direction.
Editas has been at the center of CRISPR genome editing's rapid emergence, party to both the major scientific advances and the legal disputes that have featured in the technology's recent rise.
Bosley was appointed CEO in mid-2014, roughly half a year after the company was founded to capitalize on discoveries made by the Broad Institute's Feng Zhang and University of California, Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna.
Half a decade later, Editas stands months away from launching what it believes will be the world's first clinical test of CRISPR genome editing in vivo, or inside a human. EDIT-101, the biotech's lead therapy being jointly developed with Allergan, is designed to treat Leber cogenital amaurosis 10, an eye disease that leads to blindness in childhood.
The Food and Drug Administration has already accepted Editas and Allergan's Investigational New Drug application, clearing the companies to begin. Currently, the plan is for patient screening to begin in mid-2019 and dosing to following in the second half of the year.
So it's at a critical moment that Editas has announced Bosley's plans to step down by March 1. Bosley has also resigned from the company's board of directors, but will continue to advise Editas through the end of 2019.
Editas said Cynthia Collins, currently an Editas board member, will serve as interim CEO during the search for a successor.
Judging by the market reaction, investors certainly appear spooked by Bosley's sudden exit, particularly as it comes on the heels of a December announcement informing investors Editas' chief financial officer, Andrew Hack, will leave the company effective March 1.
Gerald Cox, the company's chief medical officer, departed at the end of 2018, following an August 2018 announcement of his plans to move on from Editas.
While a key moment, Editas' transition from pre-clinical biotech to a clinical-stage company is also a time when the company's board may be re-evaluating what type of leader would be best suited for moving clinical programs forward, one analyst speculated.
"We understand Editas has an assertive board of directors who, in our view, had likely been contemplating an evolution of the company's leadership towards experience and demonstrated excellence in clinical development," wrote Raymond James analyst Elliot Wilbur in a Jan. 22 note to investors.
"The CEO departure sounds mutual and may end up being good for Editas in the long run if a new CEO with experience managing a growing clinical stage biotech is recruited."
Still, Wilbur acknowledged that the departures of both Bosley and Hack, who also joined Editas early in its growth, represent a major shift in the biotech's journey.
On Twitter, Bosley called the decision to leave Editas "tough," saying the company has made "great progress."
"Five years ago at Editas, we asked the (rather daunting) question, 'What if you could repair broken genes?”' Bosley wrote Tuesday. "We've made great progress towards answering that question, with a lot of changes and transitions along the way."
What comes, next, however, will be even more consequential, contributing to gene editing's broader advance into human therapeutics.
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