Biotech company Mammoth Biosciences, which uses gene-editing Crispr technology for diagnostic and discovery applications, announced Wednesday that it has signed an exclusive deal with University of California Berkeley to license a new class of Crispr proteins for use in its product line.
“We’re using natural diversity as a starting point for building and developing systems with new functionalities,” says the San Francisco-based company’s cofounder and CEO Trevor Martin, an alumnus of the 2019 Forbes Under 30 list.
Crispr, the gene-editing technology that has revolutionized the past decade of biotechnology, takes advantage of millions of years of microbial evolution, which has developed proteins that can rearrange DNA in order to defend against viruses. When these proteins are discovered and isolated, they can turn into potent tools in the belt of biotechnologists looking for more efficient ways to edit genomes. Gene-editing is used for a variety of purposes, from diagnosing disease to developing treatments for genetic disorders to inventing new kinds of crops to using bacteria for chemical engineering.
Last month, a group of researchers at U.C. Berkeley, in a laboratory headed by Crispr pioneer Jennifer Doudna, published a paper outlining their discovery a new type of Crispr protein. Called CasΦ, this protein was discovered in a type of virus called “biggiephages” rather than a bacteria. In addition to being able to perform some useful gene-editing functions, this protein is also half the size of other Crispr proteins. It’s also a simpler system, which offers some significant advantages for particular applications, says Martin, particularly the potential for in vivo gene-editing.
As part of its terms with Berkeley, Mammoth Biosciences will have exclusive commercial rights to the CasΦ protein, extending the company’s exclusive set of proteins. “We’re really focused on building out the largest and most diverse toolbox of Crispr proteins on Earth,” says Martin. “Which lets us choose the best tool for the job.”
This new deal comes during a busy year for Mammoth, which was founded in 2017. In January, the company closed a $45 million series B round led by Decheng Capital, giving it over $70 million in capital to date. When the pandemic hit, the company pivoted resources to develop an at-home Covid-19 test utilizing Crispr technology. The company was awarded a grant from the NIH in July to accelerate this technology after a Shark Tank-inspired competition.
“One of the exciting things about Mammoth is that we have so many different applications of these Crispr proteins that have a huge impact,” says Martin.