RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – A young Boston-area gene therapy company, Beam Therapeutics, has joined a cluster of gene and cell therapy startups with plans to build an $83 million biomanufacturing facility in Durham that could employ more than 200 people over five years.

Beam is developing precision genetic medicines through a pioneering CRISPR technology known as base editing. It’s using this proprietary gene editing approach to create therapies aimed at cures for serious diseases with precise edits to single base pairs in DNA and RNA.

The 3-year-old Cambridge, Mass., company was founded by MIT researcher and gene editing pioneer Feng Zhang, Ph.D. It’s planning a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Durham County that will pay its workers an average $102,654 a year.

It’s targeting gene therapies in the fields of hematology, oncology, liver diseases, and ocular and central nervous system (CNS) diseases. The company believes its approach provides greater control of the gene editing process with a lower risk of unintended off-target effects. Based on the most effective method for each target organ, Beam uses a range of gene delivery strategies, including electroporation for blood and immune cells, non-viral (LNP) for liver and potentially other organs, and viral (AAV) for delivery to the eye and CNS.

Beam Therapeutics to build $83M manufacturing facility in RTP, create hundreds of jobs

Beam’s technology platform incorporates gene editing and gene delivery modalities found across North Carolina’s broad and growing cell- and gene-based therapy community. In the gene editing space, North Carolina has both home-grown companies like Precision BioSciences and production-phase companies including Cellectis.

Spanning the field from academic research to commercial manufacturing, North Carolina’s ecosystem also includes expertise in several gene therapy delivery modalities including AAV used by Pfizer, AveXis, Audentes Therapeutics and AskBio, and lentiviral approach used by bluebird bio. Project Pathfinder’s appreciation of the breadth and depth this expertise offers from a talent perspective is a driving factor in the selection of NC as a preferred location. Access to a highly specialized workforce and training infrastructure, in combination with NC’s attractive business climate and high quality of life, continues to position NC as a competitive location for advanced biomanufacturing operations like Beam’s.

“Beam’s decision to locate in the Triangle rather than sites it explored in Massachusetts, Philadelphia and Maryland further bolsters North Carolina’s growing community of cell- and gene-based therapy companies,” said Laura Rowley, Ph.D., the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s director of life science economic development, who helped support Beam’s recruitment.

“With Beam Therapeutics’ commitment to innovation comes exciting opportunities for precise and efficient genetic medicines to cure a broad spectrum of diseases ranging from sickle cell to cancer.”

The state Economic Investment Committee met this morning and approved a series of multi-year incentive payments to Beam, totaling $3.65 million.

(C) N.C. Biotech Center