A CRISPR collaboration

Horizon Discovery, Desktop Genetics team up to develop gene-editing platform

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CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—Horizon Discovery and biotechnology company Desktop Genetics have launched a collaboration for the development of a CRISPR design platform to be used by Horizon for fast identification of the best guide-RNAs in the human genome for each gene-editing task, as part of its GENESIS technology suite.
Per the agreement, Desktop Genetics will be responsible for designing algorithms for the new platform, based on Horizon’s input and CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) knowledge, and Horizon will test and implement the algorithms in its products and services offering. No financial terms for the agreement were disclosed. CRISPR is an RNA-guided gene editing system that Horizon Discovery licensed from Harvard University in September 2013.
“Horizon is placing significant investment in ensuring our scientists and customers have access to the best gene-editing technology, or combination of technologies, to most effectively achieve their goals,” Eric Rhodes, chief technology officer at Horizon Discovery, noted in a news release. “We are committed to ensuring that we continue to be able to offer our customers a best-in-class solution for their research needs.”
This represents the first time the companies have worked together, says Rhodes, who noted that Desktop Genetics’ AutoClone program “is a simple and elegant solution for DNA management, and this, along with direct discussions, gave us confidence that they had the skills and experience to meet our needs for a CRISPR design tool.” The AutoClone program is Desktop Genetics’ core platform, which the company describes as a DNA search engine that “enables the optimal design, synthesis, management and sharing of DNA constructs.”
“Desktop Genetics develops novel software tools that are optimized for applications in gene expression, antibody engineering, cell line development, functional genomics, gene-editing and protein production,” Riley Doyle, CEO of Desktop Genetics, commented in a statement. “We are excited to be working with Horizon, a leader in its field, on its application of the cutting-edge CRISPR technology, and on expanding our offerings in the growing fields of genome and cell line engineering.”
Rhodes explains that CRISPR is “generally regarded as more accessible to researchers than other gene editing approaches—ZFNs, AAV, TALENS, Meganucleases—due to the simplicity of designing and building the CRISPR reagent itself.”
“Despite advances in the field, gene editing remains complex, and many projects still fail. The process of genome editing is more complicated than simply generating gene editing reagents, and so Horizon is striving to use its unique expertise and technology platform to fully enable customers by making the platform as user-friendly and effective as possible,” he adds.
While Rhodes says there are several applications for gene editing, he notes that Horizon’s focus is primarily on engineering cells for the development of isogenic lines. He adds that “CRISPR has the potential to be used therapeutically to alter genetic defects in cells, but the application of the technology still has some way to go before this will become a reality.”
“Starting about four years ago with the launch of ZFN technology, followed by TALENs and now CRISPR, gene editing is fast becoming one of the ‘must have’ technologies used in medical research,” says Rhodes. “Whereas only a small handful of labs were attempting gene editing five years ago, there are now thousands of researchers using these gene-editing tools today. Given the wealth of genomic information available today and the variability seen among patient populations, it has become increasingly important to be able to specifically introduce genomic alterations and investigate the role they may play in disease.”

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