Beam Therapeutics: The Biotech Startup Coming for CRISPR’s Title?

2013. A monumental year — forever marked in the history of science — when CRISPR-Cas 9 technology was officially used in human genome editing. Professor Jennifer Doudna’s life as a UC Berkeley molecular biology professor would flip upside down as she’s marked one of the most revolutionary scientists of the century for taking the first taps into the potential CRISPR Cas-9 holds for humankind. Podcasts. TV interviews. Even a book. And this year, along with Emmanuelle Charpentier, the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Her discoveries, inevitably invaluable — she’s a big deal woman and will be for a long time.

But in comes Beam Therapeutics. A Seattle, Washington based biotechnology company focused on becoming one of the next “biotech giants” in genomic medicine. Something that’s particularly caught the eye of experts — their WIP genetic code rewriter: Base Editing.

Cool, so another biotech company is developing gene editing technology. What’s the big deal here?

There are some experts who say the gene editing technology Beam Therapeutics has in the works is much “more precise” than CRISPR-Cas 9. Meaning the all the hype around CRISPR could very soon be transferred over to Beam therapeutics.

Photo on Unsplash

Those who keep themselves updated on biotechnology may already know that CRISPR has faced some road-blocks and issues along its journey of redefining humanity. Its biggest issues: risk of unwanted/undetected DNA changes, large DNA deletions, and mis-rearrangments near the genome target site. All in all, it isn’t one bit full proof. Because most diseases are a result of mutations in a single base, the CRISPR method of “pulling out a chunk” of DNA with “RNA” scissors is quite dangerous.

That’s why experts are so excited about Base editing. Beam Therapeutics technology is comprised of two enzymes that focus on an exact point in the genome that later edits the enzyme by changing the base through point mutation— “G” to “A”, for example. No chunks. Just straight to the point.

“If existing gene editing approaches [like CRISPR] are like “scissors” that cut the genome, base editors are ‘’pencils” that enable erasing and rewriting one letter of the genome at a time.” — Beam Therapeutics

So what does this mean for the future of CRISPR?

Well, it could mean nothing at all. It could also mean everything. As of September, Beam therapeutics has raised over $200 million in funding, they're hot news, and experts say their technology might just be better. In the world of competitive market, medicine, and capitalism, it could just mean that 3–10 years from now the spotlight moves completely away from CRISPR cas-9 and towards biotech companies like Beam Therapeutics.

But we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Shanel Pouatcha

Shanel Pouatcha

Interested in all things redefining humanity— Science|Tech|Startups|Pop Culture|Society :)