- Cynthia Collins will step down as the chief executive of Editas Medicine, roughly one and a half years after she replaced Katrine Bosley as CEO of the gene editing biotech company.
- James Mullen, chairman of Editas' board of directors since 2018, will succeed Collins on Feb. 15, the company announced Monday. Before joining Editas' board, Mullen was CEO of Patheon, a contract drug developer and manufacturer bought by Thermo Fisher. He also led Biogen from 2000 to 2010, a period in which the biotech grew into one of the industry's largest but became the target of activist investor Carl Icahn.
- The CEO switch comes at a critical juncture for Editas. The company has advanced its lead medicine, a CRISPR-based treatment for a form of genetic blindness, into clinical testing and expects to present the first data later this year. A trial of a second medicine is also set to begin this year.
For the second time in two years, Editas is undergoing a leadership shake-up. In January 2019, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech surprised many by announcing the exit of Katrine Bosley, who had joined the company soon after its founding and helped shepherd it through the CRISPR gene editing field's rapid emergence.
Cynthia Collins was first appointed interim CEO while Editas began a search for Bosley's successor, only for the company to choose Collins six months later.
Since her permanent appointment, Editas has essentially turned over its entire leadership team. Excepting the company's top lawyer Charlene Stern, Collins is Editas's longest-tenured executive. One chief medical officer came and went in the roughly 18 months Collins has been CEO.
Most recently, Charles Albright, Editas' chief scientific officer since August 2016, left in mid-January to "pursue another opportunity." A search for his replacement remains ongoing, a company spokesperson confirmed Monday.
Collins' departure was a "personal decision," the spokesperson said, declining to add further details regarding her plans.
"Under Cindy’s leadership, Editas experienced great growth and progress, and as the Company moves into its next phase of growth, we are fortunate to have someone with Jim's proven leadership and significant experience with building outstanding organizations on a global scale to take over the day-to-day leadership of Editas Medicine," the spokesperson said.
Last year, Editas began the world's first study in humans of a CRISPR-based medicine that's designed to edit DNA inside the body. Other trials have deployed CRISPR gene editing on cells extracted from patients, or using different types of technology for "in vivo" gene editing.
The study is testing EDIT-101, a treatment Editas developed for a type of inherited blindness known as Leber Congenital Amaurosis 10, or LCA-10.
In people with the condition, mutations in a gene called CEP-290 prevent the body from making a key component of the photoreceptors that help the eye sense light. EDIT-101 uses CRISPR-based gene editing to remove the disease-causing mutation, in theory allowing the photoreceptor to regenerate the missing component.
Editas has enrolled the first two patients of a planned 18 into the study, and expects to soon begin dosing a second group of four with a higher dose of EDIT-101. Enrollment has taken longer than Editas first expected when it began the trial in 2019.
Originally, EDIT-101 was the subject of a collaboration between Editas and Allergan, which was bought by AbbVie in June 2019. AbbVie opted to terminate the partnership, handing Editas full control of EDIT-101's development in August 2020.
The first data from Editas' trial should come later this year. Safety monitoring of the first two patients hasn't turned up any serious adverse events or dose-limiting toxicities, Editas said in January.
In addition to EDIT-101, Editas also hopes to begin testing a second CRISPR-based medicine this year, for sickle cell disease, and to ask the Food and Drug Administration for approval to study that medicine in beta-thalassemia as well.
Shares in Editas rose 7% in Monday morning trading. Stocks of gene editing-focused companies like Editas have soared in recent months, joining a broader run-up in the market for biotechs.