Being First Is Not Enough For Crispr Therapeutics


Crispr Therapeutics (NASDAQ:CRSP) stock holds a special place in business history.

the CRISPR Therapeutics logo seen displayed on a smartphone
Source: rafapress /

Crispr was the first public company to emerge based on the gene editing technology called CRISPR-CAS9 . Half of the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry went to Crispr co-founder Emmanuelle Charpentier.

But great science doesn’t always make for a great company. In 2021, CRSP stock is having a tough time turning innovation into worthwhile drugs, and investors are out of patience.

Since the start of 2021, CRSP stock is down over 40%. Shares are at $89 and the company has a market capitalization of $6.7 billion.

The third-quarter earnings release, with a loss of $127,000, $1.67 per share, and revenue of $824,000, didn’t change the trajectory. The loss was narrower than expected, but revenues also fell short of estimates.

What It’s Doing

Investors are starting to ask hard questions.

Crispr’s most promising therapy, so far, is a potential treatment for beta thalassemia and sickle cell anemia, which are blood disorders. Its partner in this work is Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VRTX), and in June the two companies reported good results on 22 patients. Vertex agreed to pay Crispr $900 million for 60% of the profits and hopes to have something in the market next year.

But Vertex isn’t putting all its eggs in the CRSP basket. It also has a deal with privately held Mammoth Biosciences, co-founded by Jennifer Doudna, who shared the 2020 Nobel with Charpentier.

The deals illustrate one of the big problems for both CRSP and Mammoth. Both lack the capital to reach the market on their own. That will remain the case until something they make is being sold and generating revenue. Until then they must partner with other companies, like Vertex, in exchange for a huge chunk of that potential revenue.

This is in contrast with Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA), which caught lightning in a bottle a year after going public with its Covid-19 vaccine.  Vaccine revenue means Moderna can proceed on its other potential drugs without partners, and in theory get all the revenue from them.

What Wall Street Wants

Analysts know gene editing is a race with lots of players and they’re spreading their bets.

The new hot name is Allogene Therapeutics (NASDAQ:ALLO), up 46% just since Oct. 8, which is working on a treatment for blood cancer. Trials are currently on hold after a patient reported a chromosomal abnormality.

But there are other gene editing techniques out there. One is base editing, which Beam Therapeutics (NASDAQ:BEAM) hopes can correct single-base mistakes in DNA. BEAM is now worth $6.3 billion, almost as much as Crispr.

There’s also prime editing, which cuts DNA differently and, its advocates say, more accurately. A start-up based on that work raised $315 million this past June.

The fast-moving science of gene editing isn’t just catching casual investors offside. Cathie Woods’ ARK funds reportedly bought 700,000 shares of CRSP at about $100 before the company released results last month that analysts later found “underwhelming.”

The Bottom Line on CRSP Stock

I have compared investing in leading edge biotechs today to oil wildcatting in the 1930s.

You might get rich. Or you might get a dry hole.

But the nature of the risk is different. You’re usually betting on treatments, individual drugs that may bring billions to their makers. In the case of CRSP stock, as with Moderna, you’re betting on a technique, which in theory means less risk.

But on the leading edge of science, techniques are constantly being improved, and each advance is protected by patent. The rubber really meets the road when drugs emerge from all this. Thus Vertex, which invests in a variety of drugs and techniques, may be a crisper Crispr investment right now.

On the date of publication, Dana Blankenhorn held a long position in MRNA. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the Publishing Guidelines.

Dana Blankenhorn has been a financial and technology journalist since 1978. Just in time for the holidays he has a collection of COVID-19 stories at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at or tweet him at @danablankenhorn. He writes a Substack newsletter, Facing the Future, which covers technology, markets, and politics.

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