Kevin Ness
Kevin Ness (Courtesy Photo)

A Boulder biotech firm has changed its name and is giving away a novel technology in the gene editing field, free of charge.

Inscripta, formerly Muse Bio, on Wednesday announced the release of CRISPR enzyme MAD7, the first in the MAD family of enzymes and named for the company's code name of the enzymes, Madagascar. The enzyme will be free to researchers — private and public — for research and development purposes. For uses such as manufacturing, therapeutics or resale, Inscripta will charge a small royalty fee.

"We believe this technology is too important to hold," said CEO Kevin Ness. "This release liberates not just the academic research community but now the commercial power of the entire world economy going after solving some of humanity's biggest problems."

CRISPR, an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, refers to repeating patterns in the DNA of bacteria. In popular usage, CRISPR is known for its use in editing genes, turning certain traits off or on.

The technology has been used to alter the genomes of crops, making them hardier or more resistant to drought and disease; and in yogurt cultures to make them immune to viruses. Tests in humans and animals show CRISPR technology can correct genetic defects that cause diseases such as cystic fibrosis or anemia.

Inscripta's MAD7 enzyme has been used to alter the DNA of E. coli and yeast, Ness said. By releasing it to researchers, he is hopeful that other modifications can be studied and further applications found. According to Ness, advancement of CRISPR technology has been limited by the expense of and restrictions on acquiring enzymes from the private companies that hold them.


Advertisement

Forbes, which also reported the news Wednesday, quoted Harvard's George Church, an early CRISPR researcher, as saying that the primary CRISPR enzyme, Cas9, is also free for researchers and has been made available to tens of thousands of workers in the field. Church also said that Inscripta's proposed royalty was standard in the industry.

That's true of academic researchers, Ness admitted, but commercial researchers are subject to high royalties. Access, too, is more limited in the commercial realm to select fields and applications.

The technology has the potential to "feed, fuel and heal humanity," Ness said. "It's going to take a lot of research to get there, and this helps get more research done."

A private company, Inscripta has multiple avenues of revenue, including developing custom enzymes for researchers. The "grand vision" of the company is to make the gene editing process cheaper and less time-consuming by developing "a full suite of tools" to perform gene editing: software, instruments and the enzymes themselves.

"We're developing all tools that gene editors need," Ness said. "You can't build a house with just a hammer — you need the full toolbox."

Launched in 2015, Inscripta this year raised a $23 million Series B round, on top of a $6 million Series A the year before. Silicon Valley private equity firm Venrock, established by the Rockefeller family, led the most recent round of fundraising.

Ryan Gill, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, co-founded the company with metabolic engineer Tanya Lipscomb and then-graduate student Andrew Garst. Ness joined Inscripta in December of last year.

Ness promised that Wednesday's announcement was the first of many.

"CRISPR is one of the most exciting breakthroughs of this century," he said. "New cures for diseases, more pest-resilient crops, more ways to adapt to climate change — there's a ton of work to do to use this technology to truly benefit society in the many ways it can.

"This is just the beginning."

Shay Castle: 303-473-1626, castles@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/shayshinecastle