Tessera Therapeutics taps former BeiGene CFO Howard Liang to join race to CRISPR 3.0
A day after Prime Medicines emerged from semi-stealth with new CRISPR tech that made even venture capitalist Bob Nelsen say “holy crap,” a Cambridge, MA-based company with similar ambitions in the works is beefing up its executive suite — starting with former BeiGene CFO Howard Liang.
Tessera Therapeutics has tapped Liang as its first CFO, in addition to several other new hires including Mana Therapeutics vet Madhusudan Peshwa as CTO for cell therapy; Avrobio alum Bill Querbes as senior VP of therapeutic discovery and translational sciences; and insitro’s former head of functional genomics Cecilia Cotta-Ramusino as senior VP of platform development.
“This is an area in genetic medicine which obviously is very, very exciting,” Liang told Endpoints News. “There are many, many things that can be done that are not enabled by the current tools with CRISPR.”
Like Prime, Tessera CEO Geoffrey von Maltzahn claims Tessera’s gene writing technology can make substitutions, additions and deletions to DNA — essentially turning the human genome into a word processor.
“In particular, we have been focused on engineering retrotransposons, which write DNA into the genome via a process called target primed reverse transcription,” von Maltzahn said via email. “This technology involves RNA-only delivery and enables Tessera to both add new functions to the genome and fix disease-causing mutations.”
This approach is much different from CRISPR 1.0, which the CEO compared to scissors that destroy invasive DNA.
After spending six years at BeiGene, Liang said he was ready for something different. The CFO got his start as a senior scientist at Abbott Laboratories, then spent a good portion of his career on Wall Street before jumping back into the industry. Now he wanted to do something on the “cutting edge of science.” And he knew the Flagship team very well — after all, they are just two floors away from his old office at BeiGene.
“I would say that the team is one of the most important attractions at Tessera,” he said. “This is not just a hot idea, but really a lot of great work has been done.”
The team hasn’t yet announced a timeline to the clinic (Prime says it’s still years away). But even so, it was able to secure a massive $230 million Series B round back in January.
When asked if an IPO could be next, Liang responded: “We’re formulating a financing plan for the company, but I think we as a company are quite ambitious, so I’m sure we’ll work with partners on the capital market,” and added that he’s open to “other means to help finance the company.”
“This is an amazing time for the field of genetic medicine,” von Maltzahn said. “All of the work being done by Tessera and across the field will result in better health outcomes for patients around the world.”