Startup CorriXR spun out from ChristianaCare research
WILMINGTON — ChristianaCare has spun out its first commercial biotech company focused on gene-editing technology to develop new cancer treatments.
CorriXR Therapeutics launched Tuesday with $5 million in seed funding from ChristianaCare and investment firm Brookhaven Bio. With executive leadership reportedly setting a target of $8 million in seed funding, the next step is to work through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process.
Eric Kmiec, executive director and chief scientific officer of the ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute, will serve as CorriXR’s CEO.
Other key figures include CorriXR chief technology officer Byung Chun Yoo, who also serves as the Gene Editing Institute chief research officer, and CorriXR Chief Operating Officer Brian Longstreet, who has worked for pharmaceutical giants and other startups. ChristianaCare President and CEO Janice Nevin is the chairwoman of CorriXR’s board of directors.
“We are excited to spin out CorriXR Therapeutics, which has an enormous opportunity to use the incredible power of gene-editing to revolutionize patient care by delivering faster and more accurate diagnoses, targeting treatments and preventing genetic disorders,” Nevin said in a prepared statement.
CorriXR, named from the Galician word to correct or edit, will use CRISPR gene-editing technology. CRISPR is an emerging technology that can detect and destroy genetic mutations, or even disable genes that nullify a patient’s response to therapies like chemotherapy radiation.
Kmiec likens CRISPR to the “genetic spell-checker,” able to correct inherited diseases like sickle cell diseases and cystic fibrosis. But he believes the more relevant approach is in disabling genes. CorriXR has developed unique CRISPR and biomolecular tools to disable a gene of a tumor cell but not the healthy cell, making it possible to select a target to treat.
“The tumor cell has the capacity to change, even when under attack from the therapies we use — and no matter how much chemotherapy you give a patient, they could remain resistant,” Kmiec said. “So a patient not responding to our standard of care therapy would be treated with gene-editing. If it goes well, the therapy would become effective, and may be able to reduce the treatment they could take.”
At the behest of the FDA, CorriXR will first target squamous cell lung cancer, which has few treatment options and has a quick resistance to chemotherapy.
Kmiec has been working on gene-editing for biotherapeutics for 30 years, including working on a team that developed some of the early iterations of gene-editing tools like CRISPR. Since 2014, he has directed the Gene Editing Institute at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute at ChristianaCare. His focus was to learn all he could about cancer and how to best use genetic medicine to treat it.
In the past seven years, Kmiec and the team at the Graham Cancer Center have made breakthroughs, such as using the gene-editing tool to make DNA repairs outside the cell.
“We’re a spinout that is maybe more mature, because we’ve had years of clinical and basic science baked into what we do,” Kmiec added. “Our clinical approach has been crafted by talented oncologists and people who run clinical trials.”
Kmiec also credits ChristianaCare for paving the road for the innovations that led to CorriXR, highlighting the health care system’s motto of “lead with love” to create a patient first approach.
“It’s only because of both our clinical impact and how Christiana thinks about medicine,” he said. “We think we’re successful because we look at the effect on the patient, not just making better technology.”
Earlier this year, ChristianaCare restructured its Gene Editing Institute into a wholly owned subsidiary, which positions it to advance research to develop therapies using CRISPR gene-editing technology and to fast-track discoveries for commercial application.
CorriXR will continue a deep partnership with ChristianaCare moving forward, with the company licensing technology from the Gene Editing Institute. The institute will also have the opportunity to review CorriXR discoveries and decide whether to license them.
Moving forward, CorriXR plans on establishing an outside organization to raise funds and attract FDA regulatory experts as well as drug developers to push CorriXR’s treatments through the federal regulation process.
Kmiec said the first meeting with the FDA was encouraging, and the next step is getting formal approval. Kmeic added CorriXR will also start work on thyroid cancer and melanoma.