One of the pioneers of CRISPR gene editing research, Feng Zhang, recently achieved a breakthrough in how CRISPR therapies can be delivered to cells. And one of Cathie Wood's favorite biotechs, Beam Therapeutics (NASDAQ:BEAM), could be in a position to benefit from this new approach. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on Sept. 1, 2021, Motley Fool contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli discuss Zhang's achievement and what it could mean for Beam.
Keith Speights: CRISPR gene editing pioneer Feng Zhang recently just achieved what seems to be a big breakthrough in gene editing. It's related to the Cas13 enzyme, whereas most of the leading CRISPR therapies that are in development right now use Cas9.
Zhang's lab's Cas13 work has been licensed to Beam Therapeutics, ticker there is BEAM. That's one of Cathie Wood's favorite biotech stocks these days.
But what's the potential breakthrough and do you think it might make Beam Therapeutics stock a buy?
Brian Orelli: The new breakthrough is that Zhang's lab has found a sub-family of the Cas13 that's small enough to fit into an adeno-associated virus, or AAV, which is currently the preferred mechanism of delivering DNA to cells.
The AAVs were used in many different gene therapies. This would allow a Cas13-based therapy to be delivered in the adenovirus, AAV. That's obviously much easier than other mechanisms to deliver DNA into the cell to get them to do the DNA that ends up doing the DNA editing and the proteins that are made from that DNA.
While Beam does have rights to Cas13 through 2018, their deal that happened around 2018, it's not really clear to me whether this also includes this new Cas13 sub-family. Maybe it does, maybe doesn't. Usually, that data is proprietary and I did some searching and couldn't find any additional information. We'll have to wait and see whether Beam actually has rights to those.
But certainly, they can also just license this from the Zhang lab. Maybe it costs a little bit of money, but either way they may be able to get a hold of this new Cas13 sub-family.
Beam is working on using Cas13 to specifically change specific base pairs on the genome. It uses the DNA recognition part of the CRISPR to find the specific DNA. But then instead of cutting the DNA like CRISPR Cas13 or the regular CRISPR Cas9 would, Beam has engineered the Cas13 to make a specific base pair change. Zhang's lab also showed that this new Cas13 sub-family can do the same thing if you add something onto it to edit the base pairs specifically.