Gene-editing is among the most promising themes in healthcare and multiple listed and privately-held companies are working to solve the puzzle. Scribe Therapeutics, a BioTech startup that’s working on gene-editing tools to cure hard-to-cure diseases, is one such company that is getting good interest from pharma majors and VC companies.
Crispr pioneer and Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna Ph.D. co-founded Scribe in October 2018. Benjamin Oakes Ph.D., David Savage, and Brett Staahl Ph.D. are the other cofounders of the company.
Notably, Scribe works on “CasX” which is a different set of proteins for Crispr systems. It has also developed a platform called “Crispr-by-design” which can tackle multiple diseases. Instead of removing cells from the body for editing and then returning them, it focuses on editing genes within the body.
According to Dr. Joshua Modell who’s an assistant professor at John Hopkins School of Medicines, CasX is better than Cas9 as they are smaller which makes them more apt for certain applications.
He also added that CasX proteins might be more selective and only impact the desired part of the DNA.
Scribe has been in the news lately for the big deals that it has signed with pharma majors.
Gene-Editing Company Signs Deals Worth Over $4 Billion
Scribe has signed deals with pharma majors that total around $4 billion. The most recent such deal is with Prevail which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Eli Lilly and is working on genetic medicines for Parkinson’s disease and other such neurodegenerative conditions.
As part of the deal which is valued at $1.5 billion, Prevail would provide $75 million as an upfront payment and equity investment. Prevail will also provide R&D funding and additionally pay Scribe some royalties on future sales.
Scribe has also expanded its deal with pharma giant Sanofi to around $2.2 billion. The previous agreement was signed last year and was valued at around $1 billion with $25 million as an upfront payment.
The new alliance could bring in $1.2 billion as success-based payments to the gene-editing company, including a $40 million upfront payment.
Commenting on the expanded partnership, Oakes said, “We are continually impressed by the expertise, rigor, and urgency that Sanofi has brought to our existing ex vivo collaboration, as well as their rapid advancements and innovation in non-viral delivery technologies. Now, we are thrilled to expand our work together into new areas of high unmet need.”
The first such deal that Scribe announced was in October 2020 with Biogen which included an upfront payment of $15 million and upto $400 million based on meeting pre-decided milestones.
Scribe Therapeutics Funding and Valuation
Scribe Therapeutics raised $20 million in the Series A funding round which was led by Andreessen Horowitz. It was followed by a Series B funding of $100 million in March 2021. Avoro Ventures led the round, which valued the company at $300 million.
After the funding round, Avoro Ventures’ partner Behzad Aghazadeh joined the company’s board and termed Scribe’s platform “quite unique compared to Cas9 systems.”
Aghazadeh added that Oakes has “really thought out and engineered his way to really addressing the challenges that other gene-editing companies still face.”
According to data from Pitchbook, VCs have invested around $3.3 billion in the industry since 2019. That however might not provide the correct funding picture as multiple gene-editing and genomics companies went public over the last three years – primarily through special purpose acquisition company mergers (SPACs).
ARK Invest, which is led by Catie Wood even has an ETF named ARK Genomics Revolution ETF (NYSE: ARKG) that invests in genomic companies. The ETF meanwhile trades at around a third of its all-time highs that it hit in 2021. Wood nonetheless sees digital wallets and genomics as two of the most promising trends over the next decade.
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