Skirting a group of pioneers, Gilead partners with gene-editing upstart Precision Bio in hunt to cure hep B
Having already found a painless cure for hepatitis C, Gilead has now set its sights on another cure for hepatitis B. And they’ve steered around the most prominent gene-editing players in the field to partner up Durham, NC-based Precision BioSciences just a couple of months after the biotech raised an impressive $110 million mega-crossover round.
Gilead said this morning it has seeded their collaboration with Precision with $445 million in milestones, avoiding any mention of an upfront in the announcement.
What brought them in?
Precision has been working with a new gene editing tech that it believes can offer a best-in-class approach to genetic surgery, using a synthetic enzyme called the ARC nuclease that can be calibrated to recognize specific DNA sequences in a gene. Interestingly, Gilead also avoided Editas, CRISPR and Intellia — the high profile troika that launched with new CRISPR/Cas9 tech — in partnering with Sangamo early this year on a gene-editing approach to off-the-shelf CAR-T drugs.
Gilead, a highly attractive development partner with a yen for big science, has been undergoing a brain drain this year. Its CEO John Milligan and chairman John Martin are headed out the door. CMO Andrew Cheng just left to run a startup company and R&D chief Norbert Bischofberger left earlier to make his own transition to the private drug development world.
Through it all, though, it seems determined to keep the pressure on HIV — its mainstay — and viral hepatitis after curing hep C and earning billions of dollars in a windfall, only to see the market start to evaporate. Since then the company has also jumped into CAR-T with a pioneering therapy.
Precision, meanwhile, has exhibited all the signs of a biotech lining up for an IPO. Now that it has a big development partner to boast about, it would appear that the business plan section of the S-1 should be ready to roll.
“Gilead’s cure-based approach to hepatitis B is comprehensive and exciting,” noted Precision chief scientific officer Derek Jantz in a statement. “Precision is pleased that initial studies with our ARCUS platform have established an important role for genome editing in their HBV program. This is an excellent application for our technology, which has made notable progress toward therapeutic in vivo editing in relevant models over the last year.”