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CRISPR technology
CRISPR-Cas9 technology uses “molecular scissors” to cut and splice DNA, as shown in this computer animation. (Credit: McGovern Institute for Brain Research, MIT)

Editas Medicine’s entry into the stock market with a $94.4 million initial public offering appears to be sparking positive signals for the company as well as the nascent gene-editing industry.

That’s not only because the Massachusetts-based startup, which lists Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates among its investors, was able to sell 5.9 million shares handily at a price of $16 a share. It’s also because the stock’s price trended upward during the company’s first hours of public trading today on the NASDAQ exchange.

There have been lots of questions surrounding Editas, the biotech industry and the IPO market as a whole: Editas’ offering was the first IPO of the year, ending a drought sparked by concerns about stock market volatility. What’s more, biotech stocks have been caught up in a riptide over the past few months. And on top of all that, Editas is heading into a dispute over patents relating to the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology.

CRISPR is already revolutionizing genetics, by making it easier to modify DNA for a wide variety or organisms. The technology could smooth the way for products such as yeast-produced biofuels and custom-made pharmaceuticals, as well as new types of cancer therapies. Editas already is collaborating with Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics on immunotherapy experiments.

Editas was the first CRISPR-centric company to conduct an IPO, but others are expected to follow – including CRISPR Therapeutics and Intellia Therapeutics. Like Editas, those companies are associated with researchers who pioneered CRISPR technology. The companies’ long-term prospects are likely to depend on how the legal disputes turns out – or more likely on the deals that they make to put those disputes to rest.

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