Inscripta (formerly Muse Bio) has raised a $55.5 million Series C round led by healthcare investor Mérieux Développement and Washington, DC-based private equity firm Paladin Capital Group. Existing investors Venrock, Foresite, MLS Capital, and NanoDimension also participated.
Inscripta is building a business based on selling gene-editing tools, such as instruments, reagents, and software, and in order to create a market for these tools, the company is giving away CRISPR enzymes for free. CEO Kevin Ness likened his company to selling pickaxes during the gold rush.
“To really achieve, a significant amount of research needs to be done and not all that research is being done because people don’t have all the tools that they need,” said Ness.
CRISPR is the technology that enables gene-editing (GE), a way of selectively breeding crops by removing certain genetic material, but without introducing foreign genetic as is the case in genetic modification or GMO technology. Its application in agriculture is highly anticipated and two companies are set to debut GE products in the near future.
Put very simply, CRISPR tools have two main features; the nuclease or enzymes that act like a pair of scissors to make cuts in a strand of DNA; and the guide RNA, which guides that enzyme to the right place on the DNA.
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Inscripta announced its first CRISPR enzyme, CRISPR-MAD7, in December and is giving away the enzyme for commercial, academic, or R&D use. Inscripta charges a fee for reselling the enzyme itself, for certain high-value applications, and for custom enzyme development. CRISPR Cas9, a widely publicized CRISPR enzyme, is already free to academic researchers, so providing the enzyme for commercial development is what’s new here. Further, Ness says that the royalties charged in relevant cases are below the industry standard.
Startup companies using CRISPR and other gene editing tools include Caribou Biosciences, which was founded by one of the inventors of CRIPSR Cas-9, is developing waxy corn; Calyxt that’s developing canola oil with a healthier fat composition and wheat with more fiber; AgGenetics, which is developing heat-resistant cattle with lighter-colored fur, and Benson Hill Biosystems (BHB) that has developed a completely new tool — CRISPR 3.0.
New gene-editing options are particularly important as the intellectual property and rights regarding CRISPR Cas9 are still somewhat uncertain, Benson Hill Biosystems CEO Matt Crisp told AgFunderNews in September. (Both the Broad Institute and Berkeley University claim to have invented or discovered parts of the process.) Jennifer Doudna, one of the inventors who was based at Berkeley, founded Caribou Biosciences, which is the only startup licensed to use CRISPR Cas9 in agriculture. Caribou has partnered with DuPont Pioneer to use the technology and DuPont will bring its first GE product, a new waxy corn, to market in 2020.
Crisp has said that making BHB’s new gene-editing platforms CRISPR 2.0 and CRISPR 3.0 (which received a patent last week) affordable in order to lower the barrier to entry and stoke innovation in the gene-editing space is a priority.
Inscripta is taking this a step farther with the understanding that if it wants to sell the tools, they’ll need to build a market first.
“One of the first emails we got [after releasing CRISPR-MAD7] was from an R&D director that said this was going to enable his business to live because they were trying to get access to the enzyme and the terms being discussed were back-breaking.”
Inscripta will use the new funding to expand its research capabilities and strengthen its internal team of high-performing research experts.
“With Inscripta we have the opportunity to unlock that potential at an even faster rate for genome writing. Broad dissemination of Inscripta’s highly multiplexed, cost-efficient, easy-to-use platform will help unleash the next generation of scientific discovery,” said Bryan Roberts, partner at Venrock and member of the Inscripta board of directors.
Last year the company raised a $23 million Series B round preceded by a $6 million Series A in 2016. Total funding for the company is $84.5 milllion.