And Its Tech Is Already Being Used Against Coronavirus

Mammoth Biosciences is a MBC BioLabs alumni company.

Read online article at Forbes
by Leah Rosenbaum

January 30, 2020

Mammoth Biosciences, a company that uses gene-editing technology Crispr for disease testing, said Thursday that it had raised $45 million in Series B funding to expand into treatments. The round, led by Decheng Capital and including new investor Verily, brings total funding to over $70 million.

The South San Francisco-based company, founded in 2017 by Forbes Under 30 honorees Trevor Martin, Janice Chen, Lucas Harrington and Crispr pioneer Jennifer Doudna, uses Crispr as a genetic “search engine” to find disease markers and alert researchers of their presence. They’ve already partnered with others, such as gene-editing company Horizon Discovery and a UC San Francisco researcher who is creating a rapid diagnostic test to identify people infected with the new coronavirus.

“The company has been one of the most prolific innovators in the overall Crispr ecosystem,” says Ursheet Parikh, an investor at the Mayfield Fund, which also participated in the round.

The new capital will allow Mammoth to expand into more traditional gene editing, which can be used to treat diseases. The company also plans to double in size, Martin says. Mammoth has already moved into new lab space on the South San Francisco campus of Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences company.

Crispr gene editing emerged in the 2010s  as a tool that could quickly and precisely snip, repair or insert genes into DNA, giving rise to companies including eGenesis, Caribou Biosciences and Sherlock Biosciences. Most biotech companies in the gene-editing space use the Crispr system with Cas9, a large protein that can cut DNA. Mammoth focuses on a different one: Cas14. Martin refers to this protein as “nano-Cas,” because it’s smaller and more precise than the popular Cas9 protein. It’s “more of a scalpel than a sledgehammer,” he says. In a diagnostic test, the Cas protein is programmed to find a specific target. Once it finds this target, it breaks apart a “reporter molecule,” which can then change the color of the solution, indicating a positive or negative test result. Cas14 is particularly useful in diagnostics, Martin says, because of its size and its ability to quickly generate a signal once it finds DNA evidence of disease.

The technology has big implications for diagnostics, Martin says. One of Mammoth’s current partnerships is with UCSF researcher Charles Chiu, who also sits on Mammoth’s scientific advisory board, to create a rapid diagnostic test for the new coronavirus that has sickened more than 6,100 people globally and killed 132.

Right now, suspected coronavirus samples are shipped to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where it can take six or more hours for the test to complete. The new test will work by taking a sample from a nasal swab, putting it into a tube with the Crispr-Cas system and other chemicals, and then dipping in a color-changing strip of paper to determine whether the test result is positive or negative. The whole thing should take from one to two hours, Chiu says, and be done in a doctor’s clinic or an emergency room. His lab was already working on a similar diagnostic test for Lyme disease, and it was able to adapt the test quickly to the new coronavirus. Chiu says the test could be ready in a matter of weeks; the only thing holding it back is a lack of human samples with which to test the diagnostic accuracy. Chiu credits Mammoth’s platform for helping them create a better, faster test. “There are very few if any technologies that you could use that would have the same speed, turnaround and accuracy,” he says.