News Article

$737M deal between Editas and Juno a 'compelling marriage' of two approaches
Date: May 27, 2015
Author: Don Seiffert
Source: bizjournals ( click here to go to the source)

Featured firm in this article: Editas Medicine Inc of Cambridge, MA

A partnership announced today with Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics is more than just the first major deal for privately held Cambridge biotech Editas Medicine. It's also, in Editas CEO Katrine Bosley's words, a "compelling marriage" of two cutting-edge technologies with the potential to treat a wide variety of cancers.

Editas stands to get more than $700 million in coming years as a result of the deal with Juno Therapeutics (Nasdaq: JUNO), which is itself a fairly new biotech known mostly for holding the sector's biggest initial public offering of 2014 ($265 million). Up front, Editas will get $25 million, with another $22 million to go toward research over the next five years to develop three new treatments that combine Editas' gene editing technique with Juno's approach to fighting cancer using T-cells, part of the body's immune system. Each of those three treatment programs could net Editas as much as $230 more in coming years assuming certain milestones are reached, as well as royalties from the sales of any of those drugs to gain approval.

But the money is only part of the story. In an interview today, Bosley said the most exciting aspect of the partnership is how the expertise of each of the two companies can be combined to make each of them more widely applicable. Editas, a 32-employee biotech launched in late 2013 by Cambridge venture firms Flagship Ventures, Polaris Partners and Third Rock Ventures, is centered around fixing gene mutations that cause diseases. Editas uses an approach called CRISPR/Cas9, using an enzyme (Cas9) to a guide an RNA molecule that can recognize a particular DNA sequence needing repair.

Juno, on the other hand, has quickly become a leader in a specific form of so-called immunotherapy known as chimeric antigen receptor (or CAR-T) and high-affinity T cell receptor (TCR). Bosley explains that approach as involving the removal and alteration of T cells which are then introduced back into the body with greater ability to fight specific cancers. She said her company's gene editing will be used to alter the T cells, making it possible to attack a wider variety of cancers than otherwise possible.

"Part of what makes this compelling marriage of two technologies so exciting is ... you have the opportunity to create more than one change to the T-cells," she said.

A couple of other partnerships involving local companies are centered around trying to combine the two approaches to during disease, said Bosley: One between Cambridge-based bluebird bio and Celgene, and another between Intellia, also of Cambridge, and Swiss drug giant Novartis.

Bosley said she chose to partner with Juno in part because the company has big plans for the future of the technology.

"The thing that really drew up to Juno was their very broad vision for the next generation of CAR-T therapies," she said.