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Editas' Feng Zhang with student
Broad Institute researcher Feng Zhang, one of the founders of Editas Medicine, works in his lab with graduate student Patrick Hsu. (Credit: Justin Knight / NSF)

Editas Medicine filed the paperwork for an initial public offering today, marking a first for the growing number of private ventures that aim to take advantage of a powerful gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9.

Among Editas’ private investors are Bng0, an investment company with funds from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates; Google Ventures, the venture capital fund associated with Alphabet; and Khosla Ventures, the fund fronted by startup whiz Vinod Khosla. The company is collaborating with Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics on cancer treatments that take advantage of immunotherapy.

Editas was founded by several of the pioneers in the use of CRISPR-Cas9, a method that lets researchers snip and edit a wide variety of genomes to correct glitches or insert new code. The founders include Feng Zhang, a researcher at the MIT-Harvard Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., where Editas is also based. Harvard geneticist George Church is also part of the Editas team.

Editas logo

CRISPR has the potential to transform fields ranging from pharmaceuticals to agriculture to biofuel production. Editas is focusing on the biomedical applications. CEO Katrine Bosley said in November that the company wants to start clinical trials of a treatment for a rare but debilitating eye disease called Leber congenital amaurosis in 2017.

Many more CRISPR-based gene therapies are on the horizon. However, the technology is the focus of a patent fight that’s just getting started. The legal maneuverings could determine which companies are winners or losers in the coming CRISPR revolution.

One of Editas’ founders, Jennifer Doudna of the University of California at Berkeley, is also a co-founder of Caribou Biosciences and Intellia Therapeutics – which are following similar strategies for CRISPR drug development. Attorneys representing Doudna and Zhang are reportedly gearing up for a showdown over CRISPR patents. Jacob Sherkow, an associate professor at New York Law School, said the dispute could shake up “hundreds of millions [of] dollars of investment in their respective companies.”

French researcher Emmanuelle Charpentier, Doudna’s CRISPR co-inventor, is the founder of yet another Cambridge-based company trying to commercialize the technology, called CRISPR Therapeutics. The company is also planning to start clinical trials in 2017, and CEO Rodger Novak told BloombergBusiness that an IPO was under consideration.

It’ll be interesting to see how Editas’ IPO is received, and how the CRISPR 3-D chess pieces are moved around in the months ahead. In its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Editas said it has raised $163.3 million so far in private offerings. It proposed raising another $100 million through the IPO – but that figure could change. The proposed date for the IPO was “as soon as practicable.” The company would be listed as EDIT on NASDAQ.

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