Bill Gates joins $120m fundraising for Editas Medicine gene start-up

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Bill Gates and the venture capital arm of Google have participated in a $120m fundraising for Editas Medicine, a biotech group focused on a nascent area of medical science that seeks to use “gene editing” to tackle serious diseases.

The lead investor in the fundraising was BngO, a vehicle set up by a group of family offices and managed by Dr Boris Nikolic, formerly chief scientific adviser to Mr Gates, the Microsoft founder. Other investors included Google Ventures, Fidelity, Deerfield Management and T Rowe Price.

Monday’s fundraising marks the third time that Editas has raised capital since it was formed in November 2013, when it secured $43m in its “Series A” round from a trio of venture capital firms: Flagship Ventures, Polaris Partners and Third Rock Ventures.

Editas is developing an experimental gene-editing system known as CRISPRCas9,
which scientists hope could be used to remove and replace defective genes. Its most advanced programme is focused on a rare genetic condition that causes blindness.

The science is at a very early stage and is being tested on individual cells in a laboratory. Katrine Bosley, chief executive of Editas, said it would be “well over a year” before the company started testing the treatment on humans.

In May, Editas signed an alliance with Juno Therapeutics, a biotech group developing an
immunotherapy treatment that turns the body into a weapon against cancer. Juno paid Editas an upfront fee of $25m as well as $22m over five years towards research and development costs. Ms Bosley said Monday’s fundraising had “broadened the investor base with some very highquality life sciences investors that have a longterm
commitment to companies”.

The presence on the shareholder roster of Google Ventures and Khosla Ventures, another techfocused investor, underlines the strengthening ties between Silicon Valley and the healthcare sector.

Google inked a deal in March to develop surgical robots with Johnson & Johnson, an agreement that followed its investments in 23andMe, a DNA testing company, and Calico, a biotech group focused on slowing the ageing process.

Ms Bosley said Google and Khosla were “two traditionally tech investors that have a deep
commitment to healthcare and appreciate the power of genome editing”.

Mr Gates has also been stepping up his interest in the biotech industry. In May, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested $52m in CureVac, a German company that uses gene science to develop vaccines.

The Editas fundraising makes it the best capitalised company in the area of CRISPR science, although there are a handful of competing startups that have secured financing recently.

In April CRISPR Therapeutics, a rival company, raised $64m from investors including Celgene, a prolific investor in biotech groups, and the venture capital arm of GlaxoSmithKline. Intellia Therapeutics raised $15m last year before signing a collaboration with Novartis in January.


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