Dive Brief:

  • Caribou Biosciences, one of the first biotech companies formed to turn CRISPR gene editing technology into medicines for humans, raised just over $300 million in an initial public offering priced Thursday, making the leap to public markets roughly 10 years after its founding.
  • The IPO, which follows four months after Caribou's venture backers invested another $115 million in the company, will help fund development of a slate of cancer cell therapies that are engineered using CRISPR to better target tumors.
  • Caribou — a name that refers to a DNA-cutting protein and to genetic building blocks called ribonucleotides — began trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange Friday under the ticker "CRBU." Investment banks underwriting the IPO can opt to buy more shares within the next month, potentially adding further funds to Carbou's already lucrative raise. 

Dive Insight:

Caribou's large IPO is suggestive of the progress scientists have made developing CRISPR as a gene editing tool over the decade since the publication of landmark research from last year's Nobel Prize winners Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier.

At $304 million, Caribou's offering is several times larger than the IPOs of Intellia Therapeutics, CRISPR Therapeutics and Editas Medicine — a trio of early gene editing companies backed by Doudna, Charpentier and the Broad Institute's Feng Zhang — as well as more recent IPOs from Beam Therapeutics and, initially at least, Verve Therapeutics.

Verve later added another $40 million to its $267 million in IPO proceeds after its financial underwriters opted to buy more shares, bringing its gross total to $307 million. Should Caribou's underwriters do the same, its IPO would likely surpass Verve's.

Doudna has had a hand in Caribou as well, co-founding the company in 2011 with Rachel Haurwitz and Martin Jinek, both former members of her lab at the University of California, Berkeley, and James Berger of Johns Hopkins University.

Haurwitz has served as Caribou's CEO since the beginning and will now lead it's next chapter as a publicly traded company. The transition coincides with another major milestone: the dosing earlier this month of the first patient in a clinical trial of Caribou's lead drug candidate. 

The experimental therapy, like the rest of Caribou's pipeline, is based on human immune cells reengineered to attack cancers, in this case non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

Several cell therapies are now approved to treat lymphoma. But Caribou is taking the platform a step forward, using CRISPR to make genetic edits meant to reduce the risk of an immune response known as graft-versus-host disease and to improve how long the souped-up cells can attack their cancerous cousins. 

Caribou plans to enroll as many as 50 participants in the Phase 1 clinical trial of the treatment, dubbed CB-010. Initial results are expected next year. 

In addition to CB-010, Caribou is also developing T cell therapies for multiple myeloma and acute myeloid leukemia, as well as an NK cell-based treatment for solid tumors. 

All are designed to use donor cells, rather than cells extracted from each individual patient — a major limitation of the first wave of cell therapies on which Caribou intends to improve. 



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