CRISPR tech startup Mammoth Biosciences is among the companies that revealed backing from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) program on Friday. Mammoth received a contract to scale up its CRISPR-based SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic test in order to help address the testing shortages across the U.S.
While that test is still in development, the RADx funding received through this funding will be used to scale manufacturing of the company’s DETECTR platform for distribution and use in commercial laboratory settings. This will still offer a “multi-fold increase in testing capacity,” the company says, even though it’s a lab-based solution instead of a point-of-care test like the one it’s seeking to create with GSK.
Already, UCSF has received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA to use the DETECTR reagent set to test for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, and the startup hopes to be able to extend similar testing capacity to other labs across the U.S.
Jennifer Doudna, a woman whose work has triggered the explosion in innovation in the field of synthetic biology and has given researchers around the world a way to program and reprogram the living world, will be speaking at Disrupt in September.
From her positions as the Chancellor’s Chair Professor in the University of California, Berkeley’s Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology Departments and a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, Doudna has been at the forefront of research into CRISPR gene editing technology.
It was only eight years ago that Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier first proposed that CRISPR-Cas9 enzymes (which direct immune responses in microbes) could be used to edit genomes. That discovery would prove to be one of the most significant advancements in the history of the human understanding of biology, and it has the potential to reshape the world.
Doudna describes her own journey into the field of biochemistry beginning back in Hawaii with the discovery of James Watson’s book “The Double Helix” on her father’s bookshelf. From an early age growing up in Hawaii as the daughter of a literature professor, Doudna knew she wanted to pursue a career in science. But it was Watson’s famous book that opened her eyes to the human side of science.
Now her scientific research and startup endeavors have the potential to open humanity’s eyes to the potential benefits of this revolutionary field of science. Because in addition to her research work, Doudna is also a co-founder of a number of companies including: Mammoth Biosciences, Caribou Biosciences, Intellia Therapeutics and Editas Medicine.
These companies are tackling some of the biggest challenges that the world faces. Mammoth is working on a new type of COVID-19 test, Caribou is pursuing novel cancer therapies, and publicly traded Editas is pursuing treatments for ocular, neurodegenerative, and blood diseases as well as cancer therapies.
There’s almost no industry where gene editing hasn’t had some sort of effect. From material science to food science and agriculture to medicine, CRISPR technology is creating opportunities to remake entire industries.
Given the breadth of applications and the questions that the technology’s application raises about how and what limitations researchers should put on the technology, there will be plenty for Doudna to discuss on the Disrupt stage, including but certainly not limited to her recently announced work on making college campuses safer via a fast saliva-based COVID-19 test.
Doudna joins an incredible line-up of Disrupt speakers including Sequoia’s Roelof Botha and Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes. We’ll be announcing even more speakers over the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
(Editor’s Note: We’re watching the developing situation around the novel coronavirus very closely and will adapt as we go. You can find out the latest on our event schedule plans here.)
In 1998, the startup company Illumina launched a revolution in the life sciences industry by developing technology to slash the costs of identifying and mapping genetic material.
Now, a little over 20 years later, Mammoth Biosciences is hoping to do the same thing for gene editing tools.
The company, co-founded by Jennifer Doudna, who did some of the pioneering work to discover the gene editing enzyme known as CRISPR, has just raised $45 million as it looks to bring to market products that can be used not only for disease detection, but are more precise editing tools for genetic material.
Rather than get bogged down in the patent dispute that raged over the provenance and ownership of applications for the original CRISPR enzyme — the Cas9 discovered by Doudna and developed for clinical applications at the Broad Institute — Mammoth has joined a number of startups in identifying new enzymes with a broader array of properties.
“From the very beginning of the company we’ve only worked with novel new enzymes to create these diagnostic products and the new novel diagnostic and editing,” says Trevor Martin, Mammoth Biosciences co-founder and chief executive.
Chiefly, the company is touting its Cas14 enzyme, which the company says opens up new possibilities for programmable biology thanks to its small size, diverse targeting ability and high fidelity — meaning that there are no unforeseen side effects to edits made using the enzyme (something that has arisen with Cas9 applications).
“There’s not one protein that’s going to be the best at everything,” says Martin. “For any particular product that you’re building, at Mammoth, we have the broadest toolbox.”
The Cas14 enzyme can be used to make gene edits in-vivo, meaning in live organisms, instead of ex-vivo, or outside of an organism. The in-vivo use-case could accelerate the time it takes to conduct experiments or develop treatments.
“Twenty years from now, when the umpteenth drug gets approved using Crispr and some nuclease named Cas132013, people are going to look back on this patent battle and think, ‘what a godawful waste of money,’ ” Jacob Sherkow a patent law scholar at New York Law School told Wired back in 2018.
Already, Horizon Discovery, a Cambridge, U.K.-based gene editing technology developer, is using the new tools developed by Mammoth Bioscience to create new CRISPR tools for Chinese Hamster Ovary cell line editing.
That partnership is an example of how Mammoth is thinking about the commercialization of the new Cas14 enzyme line and its role in biological engineering.
“You will need a full toolbox of CRISPR proteins,” says Martin. “That will allow you to interact with biology in the same way that we interact with software and computers. “From first principles, companies will programmatically modify biology to cure a disease or decrease risk for a disease. That’s going to be really kind of a turning point.”
To achieve its vision, Mammoth has managed to nab top talent from the life sciences industry, including Peter Nell, a co-founder of Casebia (a joint venture between Bayer and CRISPR Therapeutics), who came on board as chief business officer, and Ted Tisch, a former executive at Synthego and Bio-Rad, who joined the company as chief operating officer.
The company also nabbed $45 million of funding, including investment firms Mayfield, NFX, Verily (the Alphabet subsidiary) and Brook Byers, which was led by Decheng Capital — bringing the company to more than $70 million in funding.
“There are a dozen or so products that are in clinical development with CRISPR,” says Ursheet Parikh, a partner with Mayfield. “Maybe that number would go up by five or 10 without Mammoth, but it will go up by one or two orders of magnitude with Mammoth.”
To Parikh, Mammoth is the best positioned of the CRISPR development tools, because the company is building a whole platform that customers can license and use to develop products using gene editing.
The thinking, according to Parikh, is as follows, “if this technology can power lots of applications, let’s basically ensure that lots of these applications can come to market and as that happens I get my app store cut.”
“It’s an Illumina-like business,” Parikh says. “Just as anybody who is innovating with genomics needs an Illumina sequencer because they want to be able to do the sequencing… if someone wants to do editing… This gives them the access to do the right sequencing.”