- Intellia Therapeutics, a leading developer of CRISPR-based medicines, on Thursday said it will buy privately held Rewrite Therapeutics for $45 million, as it seeks to expand its gene editing toolkit.
- Founded by scientists from the University of California, Berkeley in 2016, Rewrite is developing technology to "write" genetic code, combining a type of DNA-assembling enzyme with a modified version of the CRISPR-cas9 system that Intellia and other gene editing biotechs have used as the basis of their experimental drugs.
- Per deal terms, Rewrite's shareholders will receive the $45 million upfront. They could earn $155 million more in cash and Intellia stock if certain undisclosed research and regulatory milestones are achieved. Shares in Intellia have fallen in value in recent months, but are still worth about 40% more than they were one year ago.
Intellia was one of the first biotechs founded to turn the breakthrough science of CRISPR into experimental medicines for genetic diseases. It, along with CRISPR Therapeutics and Editas Medicine, has since advanced therapies into human testing and begun reporting clinical trial results.
Last June, data from an early study of Intellia's treatment for the rare disease transthyretin amyloidosis offered the first clinical evidence that CRISPR gene editing can be successfully used inside a person's body to treat an illness.
But outside of Intellia's, CRISPR's and Editas' walls, the field of gene editing has advanced rapidly, with startups formed to advance new ways to alter DNA and improve on how such medicines are delivered. Now, the early pioneers are turning to these new companies to help expand their capabilities.
CRISPR, for instance, recently partnered with Capsida Biotherapeutics to develop neurodegenerative disease treatments that rely on Capsida's technology to target tissue in the central nervous system. Beam, a newer gene editing company itself, last year bought Guide Therapeutics to access delivery technology it's now using in a major partnership with Pfizer.
Intellia's deal with Rewrite will explore a different type of gene editing than Intellia is currently developing. According to the companies, Rewrite's technology could help make edits to single DNA "letters" and more efficiently edit cells that don't divide frequently.
Rewrite could also help Intellia target diseases that aren't as easily addressable by first-generation CRISPR-cas9 editing, according to an investor note from Dae Gon Ha, an analyst at Stifel.
Editing single DNA letters could help developers more precisely modify genes. Beam, Verve Therapeutics and others are exploring technologies that they say can accomplish this, too.
Shakked Halperin and David Schaffer, the Berkeley scientists behind Rewrite, published research on their use of their technology to edit bacteria in the journal Cell in 2018. Little information is public about the company's funding and launch, but Rewrite's website lists Civilization Ventures and Prefix Capital as its venture backers, along with a partnership with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.