“Companies making significant developments in the gene-editing space include Agilent, Inscripta, KromaTiD, Editas — all located along Colorado’s Front Range. That’s not a coincidence. Colorado, thanks largely to research and technology originating at University of Colorado Boulder, has become an epicenter for the latest in gene-editing applications.
“There’s a hotbed of chemistry associated with gene editing here,” said David Sebesta, chief commercial officer of KromaTiD. The Boston area and California are the biggest hubs for gene editing, but there’s no denying there’s a cluster of technology around Boulder that can help put Colorado bioscience on the map — especially as some companies emerge from stealth mode with the possibility of unlocking some of gene editing’s real potential.
Boulder’s longtime excellence in RNA led to companies like Santa Clara, California-based Agilent Technologies to open facilities along Colorado’s Front Range. Agilent, which employs 260 people in Boulder and Frederick, is one of the world’s experts on providing synthetic RNA. It had $4.47 billion in annual revenue during fiscal year 2017, and has 13,500 employees globally. The company supplies RNA to biotech and pharmaceutical companies, therefore supplying one of the key ingredients to make gene editing possible. Agilent has specialized in creating RNA that can be used as guide arms in gene editing, taking years to develop the complicated process of creating chains of RNA that are long enough to be used.
Up until now, Inscripta had been marketing itself as a company that was basically making an open-source CRISPR enzyme. Many of the nucleases that have been made for gene editing (such as CRISPR-Cas9) are proprietary and require high-cost licenses and royalties. Inscripta wanted to make something more accessible, so scientists could get to gene editing faster. The company created its MAD7 enzyme, a nuclease that has a low-cost licensing fee attached to it. But that’s not all Inscripta has been developing. The company is working on a digital genome engineering platform. Using proprietary chemistry, instruments and software, the technology can manage, engineer and track individual cells.
“Colorado is a hotbed for the synthetic DNA that CRISPR relies on,” said Chris Tompkins, CEO of KromaTiD. “The Agilent site here is probably pretty close to the biggest synthetic-DNA manufacturing site in the world.” There are other strong ties between gene editing and CU Boulder. Jennifer Doudna, one of the leaders in developing CRISPR genome editing and one of the first to use CRISPR-Cas9, did her postdoctoral work at CU Boulder under Tom Cech. She is now a professor at University of California Berkeley.
Editas Medicine, another company with a Boulder presence, is a leading genome-editing company that is focused on translating the potential of CRISPR genome editing into a robust pipeline of treatments. Although it’s headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it has a growing team in Boulder. “For genome editing, we need the best quality [guide RNA],” Bruce Eaton, senior vice president of chemistry for Editas, told DBJ in an email. “We found that the ecosystem for RNA chemistry was especially rich in Boulder.”
KromaTiD, of Longmont, is another company looking to enable gene editing. Because genome editing inherently causes some damage to the surrounding DNA, KromaTiD is looking to mitigate that damage. Its technology detects where the damage will occur — to ensure it’s not going to accidentally make a problem worse — and measures the amount of damage. The company is able to do so through AI image analysis. KromaTiD’s specialty is not detecting damages to DNA sequences, but rather when large chunks of structural DNA are damaged. Because of that, the company has very few competitors. Its technology was born from another area research school, Colorado State University.