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Editas Medicine, a Cambridge biotech startup developing treatments to modify genetic defects that cause diseases, on Monday said it has raised $120 million from a group of investors that includes Fidelity Investments and a fund backed by Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates.

The large funding round underscores growing interest by scientists and financial backers in the emerging field of gene editing, which seeks to repair defective mutations responsible for more than 5,000 genetic diseases.

The company will use the cash to develop a gene-editing approach that eventually could be used in multiple therapeutic areas, including ophthalmology and oncology, chief executive Katrine Bosley said.

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“This speaks to the future of genomic editing and how we’re approaching it,” Bosley said. “There’s certainly a lot of work to do to translate this idea into medicines. Having a substantial financial foundation gives us an opportunity to do more things in parallel. We’re trying to figure out how to address each disease target in a systematic manner.”

Editas was formed in November 2013 to develop genomic-editing technologies licensed from medical research laboratories at Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

Company scientists are seeking a way to cut defective mutations out of genetic material and replace them with healthy cells engineered by using a specific protein.

Bosley said Editas has a number of active research programs, including one to address a rare eye disease that causes blindness in about 1,000 people in the United States.

It has also struck a partnership to share its gene-editing technology with another startup, Juno Therapeutics Inc. in Seattle, which is working to genetically engineer cells that can recognize and kill cancers.

Several other companies are competing to develop gene-editing therapies, including Sangamo Biosciences Inc. of Richmond, Calif., and Cellectis Group of Paris, as well as a pair of rival Cambridge startups, Intellia Therapeutics Inc. and CRISPR Therapeutics.

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The largest financial backer in the new funding round is bng0, a syndicate formed by health care and life sciences investor Boris Nikolic exclusively to bankroll Editas; Gates is investing in Editas through the Nikolic syndicate. Nikolic is also joining the Editas board.

Others funders include Google Ventures, Deerfield Management, Viking Global Investors, and T. Rowe Price Associates Inc.

The company was launched with an initial investment of $43 million from the venture capital firms Flagship Ventures of Cambridge, Polaris Partners of Boston, and Third Rock Ventures of Boston.

Bosley, who formerly was chief executive of the Bedford biotech Avila Therapeutics Inc., said Editas scientists are still in early-stage research, testing molecules that could be used to repair mutations.


Robert Weisman can be reached
at robert.weisman@globe.com.
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