Bayer AG (Xetra: BAYN), Leverkusen, Germany and CRISPR Therapeutics AG, Basel, Switzerland have announced the creation of a 50/50 joint venture “to discover, develop and commercialize new breakthrough therapeutics”, all focused on developing cures for blindness, blood disorders and congenital heart disease. The new joint venture will aim to develop and commercialise applications based on a suite of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technologies which have created considerable excitement in the biomedical field over the past 3 years (see Bio-Ophthalmology feature in this issue). According to Bayer, since the initial research papers appeared in 2012, research on CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing has been published in over 1,100 scientific and medical journals which the company believes support a considerable potential to cure many human diseases, many of which remain currently untreatable with available technologies. Science Magazine appeared to agree with the Bayer assessment naming CRISPR gene-editing technology as “Breakthrough of the Year 2015”.
Bayer will invest USD $335 million in the joint venture which will combine two leading knowledge areas: CRISPR-Cas9 from CRISPR Therapeutics and protein engineering and disease know-how from Bayer. According to a joint press release, CRISPR Therapeutics will contribute its proprietary CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology and intellectual property, while Bayer will bring considerable protein engineering and pharmaceutical market experience. The JV is understood to be the first investment by “Bayer LifeScience Center” (BLSC), an initiative which operates as a novel strategic innovation unit in Bayer directly reporting to Bayer’s Board of Management. Bayer will acquire a minority stake in CRISPR Therapeutics for a proportion of the overall cash investment while the JV will be led on an interim basis by Dr. Axel Bouchon (of BLSC). Dr. Rodger Novak, CEO and co-founder of CRISPR Therapeutics will serve as interim chairman of the yet-to-be-named joint venture. According to Bayer, the move is a natural step given BLSC’s mission “to uncover, encourage and unlock fundamental scientific and medical breakthroughs more rapidly by enabling innovative partnerships with entrepreneurial best-in-class biotechnology companies like CRISPR Therapeutics.”
Commenting on the commercial marriage, Dr. Marijn Dekkers, Chief Executive Officer of Bayer AG stated, “The new Bayer LifeScience Center and the partnership with CRISPR Therapeutics are representative of Bayer’s more than 150-year tradition of developing scientific innovations that dramatically improve lives. Bayer and CRISPR Therapeutics are philosophically and financially aligned in our mission to develop game-changing or possibly curative treatments for serious human genetic diseases”. Dr. Roger Novak of CRISPR concluded the announcement stating, “The JV and the Bayer investment are game-changing for our business. We keep a 50 percent ownership in the high-risk, high-reward areas of blood disorders, blindness, and congenital heart diseases, but also retain full access to target delivery technologies and IP development by the JV, which we intend to fully leverage in support of CRISPR Therapeutics’ wholly owned core strategic disease areas”.