A new Massachusetts-based startup called Beam Therapeutics launched today, and while the world is used to Harvard geniuses opening tech companies, this one is a little different. The company will be the first to go after diseases with the next generation of CRISPR tech, so-called base editing.
If you remember back to your high school biology classes, you may recall that DNA is made up of strands of nucleic acids known colloquially as A, C, G, and T. Base editing, which was developed by Harvard chemical biologist and Beam cofounder David Liu, is designed to target just one base out of billions within the genome. While the traditional CRISPR system cuts out an entire gene sequence made up of different base letters, base editing directly swaps a single base for another, minimizing genetic side effects. That one little change can make the difference between a mutated, disease-causing gene and a healthy one. When scientists include a little protein cocktail, they can even prevent the cell from undoing the correction
Now Liu has teamed up with CRISPR pioneers J. Keith Joung and Feng Zhang to put that tech to use at Beam, and they have $87 million of funding to get things started. While the company is still figuring out what diseases they want to target, according to a press release, their “goal is to see this innovation develop into transformative treatments for the widest possible range of human diseases.”
The U.S.-based company isn’t the only team working on base editing, of course. Last year, researchers in China used the tiny snip of base editing to cut disease directly out of a human embryo.