A startup planning to apply CRISPR technology to diagnostics has raised its first major round of venture capital financing a month after its founding.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Sherlock Biosciences said Tuesday that it had raised $31 million in a Series A round, led by Northpond Ventures and Baidu Ventures, with additional contributions from the Open Philanthropy Project and other investors. The company was launched last month with $35 million in initial financing, which included a $17.5 million non-dilutive grant and another investment by the Open Philanthropy Project.
The company’s founders are several veterans of the diagnostics industry and gene-editing science, including CRISPR pioneer Feng Zhang of The Broad Institute.
Its stated desire is to use the new funding to “disrupt” diagnostics by developing molecular diagnostics that can rapidly deliver accurate and inexpensive results in areas like oncology, infectious diseases, at-home testing, low-resource settings and agriculture.
The company has in-licensed two technology platforms from The Broad and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. From The Broad, it has licensed SHERLOCK, developed by Zhang and others, and from Wyss it has licensed the molecular diagnostics platform INSPECTR.
SHERLOCK – whose name is derived from “specific high-sensitivity enzymatic reporter unlocking” – works by amplifying genetic sequences and programming a CRISPR molecule to detect specific genetic signatures in samples, releasing a signal when those signatures are detected. According to the company, SHERLOCK is able to detect the unique genetic “fingerprints” of almost any DNA or RNA sequence in an organism of pathogen. The INSPECTR acronym is derived from “internal splint-pairing expression cassette translation reaction.” It works through synthetic biology and synthetic gene networks and enables the creation of instrument-free diagnostic devices.
The company’s application of CRISPR to diagnostics is a departure from the more well-known uses of the technology, which have primarily focused on therapeutic gene-editing. In February, a Phase I/II clinical trial of a therapy developed using the technology in beta-thalassemia, run by Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Switzerland’s CRISPR Therapeutics, dosed its first patient. And last week, a Phase I clinical trial at the University of Pennsylvania of a cell therapy sponsored by Mustang Bio dosed its first two patients, one with multiple myeloma and one with a sarcoma.
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