Clinical OMICS

JUL-AUG 2019

Healthcare magazine for research scientists, labs, pathologists, hospitals, cancer centers, physicians and biopharma companies providing news articles, expert interviews and videos about molecular diagnostics in precision medicine

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10 Clinical OMICs July/August 2019 Emily Mullin Contributing Editor C RISPR-Cas9 is best known for its powerful ability to make double-stranded breaks in DNA, allowing scientists to delete and edit genes with relative ease. But switch out Cas9 for another protein, and CRISPR becomes a programmable tool for detecting the presence of certain nucleic acid sequences. This feature has startups eyeing CRISPR for its use as a next-generation molecular diagnostic test, one that could be customized to virtually any disease, infection, or mutation and be administered at home, at the point of care or, in the event of a disease outbreak, to get a quick readout to allow faster response. That's the idea behind Mammoth Biosciences, which came out of stealth mode in April 2018 with intellectual property licensed from the lab of Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., at the University of California, Berkeley. Following close behind, Sherlock Biosciences launched in March this year with an initial $35 million in funding and technology developed by Feng Zhang, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Zhang's company, based in Cambridge, MA, takes its name from its CRISPR platform, Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing (SHERLOCK). Both CRISPR inventors are co-founders of the respective companies. Since 2015, the two institutions—Berkeley and the Broad—have been involved in a bitter dispute over who made key discoveries that allowed CRISPR-Cas9 to be used in eukaryotic cells—and that fight continues in the courts. Leveraging CRISPR-Cas9, Doudna and Zhang also helped create companies in pursuit of CRISPR-based therapeutics. Now, the competition to com- mercialize CRISPR is heating up in the diagnostics space. Similar to CRISPR gene editing, Mammoth and Sher- lock's CRISPR diagnostics platforms work by combining a guide RNA with a Cas enzyme. When CRISPR is used for cutting or editing, that enzyme is typically Cas9. Though Cas9 was the first protein to be optimized for CRISPR and Startups seek to expand access to diagnostics with inexpensive CRISPR-based tests CRISPR Detectives Valerii Minhirov / iStock / Getty Images Plus Sherlock Biosciences is developing a CRISPR diagnostic that uses a simple paper test strip.

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