Six impressive CRISPR application areas and cool startups to match them

If biotech interests you, you must already know about CRISPR, the cutting edge gene editing technology that was developed a couple of years ago, by Jennifer Doudna. Also to us, CRISPR, or actually everything related to genome editing tools, is amongst the most promising technology innovations out there. If you didn’t know about CRISPR yet, check out this video

In this blog I will give you some examples of technology companies that are using CRISPR for impactful applications ranging from drug development to animal breeding and crop development.  

Curing complex diseases

The most well known and well-funded application of CRISPR is CRISPR as genome editing tool to cure humans from complex diseases. Well known examples are: Jennifer Doudna’s (she’s one of the CRISPR pioneers), Intellia Therapeutics which build a pipeline of products to cure patients from infectious diseases, genetic diseases, cancer and autoimmune diseases. CRISPR therapeutics, Homology Medicines and Exonics Therapeutics.

But aside from curing humans from complex diseases, and asides from the CRISPR protein Cas9 that is famous for its capabilities, there is more…! Other CRISPR proteins are being discovered. For instance Cpf1 (which is smaller than Cas9 and cuts in a different way and in different places of the genome) and Cas13 (even smaller and can make single DNA nucleotide changes). And we’re still at the very start of these molecular toolbox discoveries.

Next, five new areas of application for CRISPR and cool startups to match them.

Antibiotics Alternatives

As antibiotics resistance is a growing problem worldwide, alternative antimicrobials, such as the French Eligo Biosciences, are very welcome.

By reprogramming the CRISPR system, they can kill the bad bacteria, pathogens, that became resistant to the regular antibiotics. And more broadly they will develop their platform for precision medicine for the microbiome. Clearly, this is a promising area, and so thought their investors from Khosla Ventures and Seventure Partners as Eligo secured  $20M in September of 2017.

And similarly did Locus Biosciences secure $19M in Series A funding from ARTIS Ventures, Chinese technology giant Tencent Holdings Limited, Abstract Ventures, and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center among other investors. 

This American N.C. State University spin off is in the same antimicrobials space, so let’s hope they manage to fight the superbugs.

Xenotransplantation

eGenesis makes xenotransplantation, cross-species transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs safer. They use CRISPR/Cas9 to remove the porcine endogenous retrovirus, also known as PERV, from the pig genome to get one step closer to using pig organs in humans. Although they raised $38M in 2017 from a group of investors amongst which Biomatics Capital partners and ARCH Venture Partners were in the lead, the step towards human clinical studies will probably still take a while to get started.

Disease/pathogen detection

Another brand-new startup from CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna’s lab is Mammoth Biosciences. They recently revealed their activities on the development of a CRISPR-based detection platform. The CRISPR protein can basically detect any piece of DNA and RNA from a sample and report the presence via a reporter molecule that shows you a color change as if it is a simple pregnancy test. Simple, widely applicable and therefore promising for multiple industries. For example to detect the presence of pathogens on food, or to detect a genetic disease from a nose swab, or a virus in a swimming pool.

Animal precision breeding

Active Genetics is a Bioengineering Platform from Synbal, a spin off from the University of California San Diego. They can engineer the genetics of any organism, this includes modifications on the germ line and thus enabling the development of animal models for research or veterinary use. Animal models would allow for better understanding of human diseases as human experimentation is unethical.

Recombinetics celebrated the birth of their first gene-edited pig for human therapeutics testing back in 2008. They have a leading IP and practical position in gene editing in larger animals and also focus on livestock precision breeding. With the expansion of their molecular toolbox with CRISPR techniques they will be able to even more precisely engineer livestock for more productive and sustainable agriculture. Few examples are naturally hornless cattle, castration free swine or fish with a better disease resistance.

Better crops

Benson Hill Biosystems, who closed their latest funding round of $25M lead by Prelude Ventures one year ago, developed its proprietary CRISPR 3.0 platform to enhance crop performance. For example for better disease resistance, improved resource utilization for drought tolerance or enhanced nutritional levels in the crop.

Calyxt who this week announced the closing of their $60.9M Public Offering applies their gene-editing technology to a combined proposition; agricultural advantageous traits such as herbicide tolerance with a healthier composition of the crops for beneficial food ingredients such as high fiber wheats, soybean with high levels of healthy oils or wheat with reduced gluten levels.

And also Hudson River Biotechnology who is based in the Netherlands but has roots in the US, raised their seed funds earlier this year. With their proprietary platform they identify the target sites in the plants genome which they would alter with CRISPR and other genetic tools to obtain plant breeds with specific traits such as high levels of lutein for eye health or for animal feed pigmentation.

That a lot is happening in the CRISPR space is last but not least illustrated by the funding round or $125M that Pairwise Plants raised last March to which Monsanto contributed $100M.

Many of us count on the power of gene editing when it comes to feeding a growing population with healthy fresh and Crispy fruits and vegetables.