- Editas Medicine will lay off a fifth of its workforce and substantially cut back its drug research in a restructuring meant to prioritize progress on a CRISPR-based medicine for sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.
- Editas, which has faced clinical delays and executive turnover, said Monday it will no longer develop gene editing treatments for two eye diseases, as well as halt investment in natural killer cell therapies for cancer. The company aims to find partners that can advance the programs instead.
- In connection with the research restructuring, Mark Shearman, the company’s chief scientific officer since June 2021, will step down from his role and leave at the end of March. Shearman’s departure is the latest in a long list of executive exits over the past few years, which have seen Editas replace its CEO, CFO and chief medical officer.
The sweeping restructuring Editas unveiled Monday puts the company’s focus squarely on its blood disease medicine EDIT-301, which is designed to be a one-time treatment for severe sickle cell and beta thalassemia. The other research programs that remain are in preclinical stages.
In December, the company released results from the first two patients treated with EDIT-301, which showed treatment appeared well-tolerated and led to increased levels of the oxygen-carrying protein hemoglobin.
But the research road ahead is long and Editas trails rivals CRISPR Therapeutics, partnered with Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and Bluebird bio. Both companies have genetic medicines for sickle cell disease that are further along, and Bluebird recently won approval of a beta thalassemia gene therapy, although it doesn’t use CRISPR gene editing.
“I strongly believe that refocusing our business around hemoglobinopathies and in vivo gene editing will best position the Company to pursue our mission to deliver revolutionary medicines for people living with serious diseases,” said Gilmore O’Neill, Editas’ CEO, in a statement.
“Though this includes making very difficult decisions, we believe more patients will ultimately benefit from our refined discovery and development efforts, our enhanced clinical execution, and, most importantly, from our ability to bring these transformative medicines to the market.”
Editas will also reshape how its scientists are organized, creating a drug discovery division for target identification and translation research and an “advanced technology” division focused on targeted integration and delivery of the biotech’s medicines.
Editas employed 264 staff as of Feb. 1. In an email, a company spokesperson said approximately 60 employees were impacted by the layoffs.
While Editas will stop work on its natural killer cell therapies, it will continue cell therapy partnerships with Bristol Myers Squibb and Immatics. Last week, two other developers of natural killer cell therapies, Fate Therapeutics and Century Therapeutics, also announced research and staff cuts.
Shares in Editas fell by more than 10% in Monday morning trading.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect comment from Editas following publication.