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The past 18 months have generated precious few feel-good headlines in the realm of health. But just because the pandemic has largely dominated news cycles doesn't mean positive developments ceased to exist.

Case in point: the innovation underway at Mammoth Biosciences, where a Nobel laureate-led team is expanding its use of the novel gene-editing tool known as Crispr; developing everything from precise COVID tests to potential cures for genetic diseases.

On Thursday, Mammoth scored a massive fundraising round to match the start-up's hype.

What Do Mammoths And Unicorns Have In Common?

Co-founded by Jennifer Doudna, who shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry for co-discovering Crispr in 2012, Mammoth has pushed the gene-editing tool to new heights.

Here's how Crispr (short for "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats") works in layman's terms: microbes housing special proteins are used as targeted molecular scissors capable of cutting and replacing genes in cells and organisms. These microbes, which Mammoth and others scour the earth for, can be found in environments like volcanoes and sewers thanks to the "heavy lifting" done by nature, as Mammoth co-founder Lucas Harrington puts it.

What makes Mammoth stand out from competitors is its vast library of Crispr-based proteins, which allows the firm to expand into several applications of the underlying technology and offer a "menu of Crispr systems," according to Harrington. Along the way, Mammoth has worked with government agencies and pharmaceutical giants while becoming a darling among biotech investors and VCs. And on Thursday, the start-up reached unicorn status:

  • The $1-billion valuation comes on the back of Thursday's $150 million Series D led by Redmile Group, which also led a $45 million Series C in late 2020 that Amazon participated in.
  • Mammoth has also earned funding from the DoD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to create a point-of-care test capable of detecting up to 10 pathogens at once, as well as a larger lab test that could detect upwards of 1,000 pathogens.

This Or That: While other Crispr-based firms exist — some already unicorns — Mammoth's menu of Crispr proteins gives the firm the flexibility to explore both diagnostics and therapeutics, making it a rare dual-threat in the field. On the diagnostics side, Mammoth has already developed a Crispr-based point-of-care COVID test capable of detecting viral RNA in roughly 20 minutes.