This article details news of the recently launched gene editing startup Beam Therapeutics.

CRISPR-Cas9 is the strep-bacteria-derived gene-editing biotech sweeping the scientific world. We have written about it on many occasions, so feel free to re-familiarize yourself.

Hint: you might recognize some names in those articles and this one.

Massachusetts-based startup Beam Therapeutics doesn’t want to just edit genes. They want to do what is known as “base editing” as developed by co-founder David Liu. Liu also serves as a Harvard chemical biologist, so he knows a thing or two about DNA.

What will the new biotech startup do with its $87-million USD funding?

image of Beam Therapeutics team John Evans, David Liu, J. Keith Joung, and Feng Zhang for article Beam Therapeutics Opens with $87-million for CRISPR Innovations
Beam Therapeutics team John Evans, David Liu, J. Keith Joung, and Feng Zhang | cen.acs.org

The Team and the Process

The company released a press release when they launched yesterday, May 14th, 2018. They outlined their goals, processes, and team for the work. But Liu and others founded the startup originally in 2017 according to Crunchbase.

Liu brought in CRISPR veterans Feng Zhang and J. Keith Joung for this venture. John Evans acts as the company CEO with Giuseppe Ciaramella, Ph.D. operating as CSO.

Beam Therapeutics differs from other CRISPR-Cas9 firms in the way it utilizes the technology. It does not cut out an entire sequence of different genetic letters (A, G, C, T). Instead, the team replaces one base/letter for another to minimize genetic side effects.

That’s why people call this “base editing” as opposed to “gene editing”.

image of person editing DNA sequence for article Beam Therapeutics Opens with $87-million for CRISPR Innovations
South China Morning Post

The Technology and the Method

This technology also uses deactivated Cas strains or “dead Cas” to prevent the “cutting” process that damages cell machinery. The CRISPR-Cas9 can still bind to the target DNA, forcing the two strands to unravel.

Then, one strand forms a loop and it is that “loop” that allows Liu’s team to do its job. With a more narrow editing window, base editing offers higher precision.

But this isn’t the only method for gene editing that doesn’t involve cutting the DNA.

Researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have their own process. Beam Therapeutics does not have an association with the Salk Institute, but they do have connections to other prestigious entities.

They have agreements with Harvard University and the Broad Institute to license their biotech innovations for an initial round of exclusive human therapeutic use.

Future Goals and Mitigating Mutations

Liu and his team chose base editing because of its less invasive process. Given current evidence, researchers believe that base editing foregoes the potentially negative side effects other CRISPR-Cas9 methods entail.

“We want to turn a mutant letter back to normal with no other effect on the genome.” – David Liu

Though they have no current disease list, Arch Venture Partners and F-Prime Partners provided $87-million USD in initial funding for the startup. This allows the Beam team to aim for loftier goals with their base editing technology.

We will provide updates on Beam Therapeutics endeavors as they come available.

Which disease do you think this team will target first?

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