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Cambridge startup Editas plans to test IPO market for biotechs

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Editas Medicine Inc., a Cambridge startup that is developing treatments to modify disease-causing genetic defects, plans to go public in a deal that could test the strength of the market for new biotech stocks.

In a filing Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, two-year-old Editas did not specify the sales price range or when it would go public. The filing said the company would offer up to $100 million in stock, a placeholder amount that probably will change as the initial public offering draws closer.

As one of a trio of Cambridge biotech companies competing in the emerging field of gene editing, which seeks to repair defective mutations responsible for about 6,000 genetic diseases, Editas is the kind of hot company that has attracted stock investors over the past few years.


But the number of US biotech IPOs dropped to 44 last year from 63 in 2014, according to Greenwich, Conn., research firm Renaissance Capital, which manages IPO-focused exchange traded funds. The number of biotech IPOs in Massachusetts fell to 11 from 15. The falloff was especially marked in the second half of the year, when fewer companies went public, a few canceled planned IPOs, and those that went forward sold below their target range.

Last August, Editas raised $120 million in a high-profile private investment round that included blue-chip names such as Fidelity Investments and a fund backed by Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates. That financing round underscored growing interest by financial backers in gene editing and the specific approach, called CRISPR-Cas9, being pioneered by Editas and its two Cambridge rivals, CRISPR Therapeutics and Intellia Therapeutics Inc.

Editas said in its filing that its approach uses a kind of molecular scissors with "potential to achieve precise, directed changes in DNA," enabling it to treat multiple genetic disorders.

A company spokesman said Editas chief executive Katrine Bosley and other executives couldn't discuss their IPO plans, citing a quiet period imposed by US regulators.


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.

The company 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 a Seattle startup, Juno Therapeutics Inc., which is working to genetically engineer cells that can recognize and kill cancers.

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.