Dan Lev – Intellia Therapeutics
Ten years ago, genome editing was still science fiction—and often not the good kind. From rogue dinosaurs in the “Jurassic Park” series to a cancer treatment that became a zombie apocalypse in “I Am Legend,” it was the tool of villains and mad scientists. Not so in reality, and not so today.
“It amazes me how much we’re advancing,” says Dan Lev, the Intellia Therapeutics’ vice president, associate general counsel. “When I first started working here, it felt like science fiction, but now, only eight years after the company was founded, we’ve made it a reality and are seeing early results showing the potential to cure people of serious, sometimes deadly diseases.”
Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Intellia is a clinical-stage biotechnology company developing genome editing therapies, which would target and alter human cells to potentially treat genetic diseases and cancers.
Intellia refers to itself as a “full-spectrum” genome editing company, pursuing in vivo and ex vivo programs with a broad range of genome editing tools . In its in vivo programs, the drug is administered directly to patients in a clinical trial to edit certain genes inside the body. In its ex vivo programs, cells are removed from the body, edited in a laboratory and returned to the body.
“I’ve seen how every little accomplishment and every team member’s contributions add up to big advancements,” Lev says. “In 2021, Intellia became the first to demonstrate in vivo genome editing in a clinical trial.”
Deals to accelerate treatments
While this work is primarily driven by world-class scientists and doctors, it can’t be done without the legal department’s support.
Much of the work of Lev’s team is transactional, he says, with the creation of a new company in 2021, AvenCell Therapeutics, being an especially rewarding project. The legal team helped Intellia set up a joint venture with two other companies to establish AvenCell, which focuses on universal, switchable CAR T cell therapies.
Current chimeric antigen receptor (or CAR) T cell therapy takes a patient’s T cells (a type of white blood cell) to a lab, genetically alters them to express a receptor on its surface to target cancer cells, and then returns the CAR T cells to the patient’s body.
AvenCell’s predecessor, GEMoaB Monoclonals, was taking a different approach, in which the same universal CAR can be used to target a patient’s T cells toward different types of cancer cells. Intellia has developed technology to genetically engineer T cells from healthy donors instead of T cells from someone living with cancer, which is known as an allogeneic cell therapy.
Intellia had been collaborating with GEMoaB, but they decided to combine their technologies to create a new company, AvenCell.
“For Intellia, it’s huge to have this new company solely focused on developing allogeneic universal CAR T cell therapy,” Lev says. “AvenCell is able to leverage our technology and GEMoaB’s technology in ways that we think have tremendous potential to improve patient outcomes for certain cancers.”
After Lev and his team finalized contracts with GEMoaB’s owners, they negotiated funding for AvenCell with Blackstone Life Sciences and completed the transaction in July 2021. Now, Intellia, GEMoaB’s previous owners and Blackstone have equal ownership of AvenCell.
Writing the future
More recently, Lev and the legal team helped Intellia acquire Rewrite Therapeutics in February 2022. Rewrite was a biotechnology company focused on DNA writing, which is a genome editing technology that has the potential to allow insertion of a larger sequence of DNA compared to existing technologies.
“Rewrite adds new capabilities to Intellia’s genome editing toolbox,” Lev says. “In order to pursue treatments for a broad range of genetic diseases, being equipped with different tools will be vital.”
Lev and the legal team initially set out to help Intellia license this technology from Rewrite when the companies realized that an acquisition made more sense. Lev says the process took about three months, with the intellectual property attorneys working through especially complex issues.
Lev and the legal team have also helped Intellia keep up with environmental, social and governance developments, and in 2022, release its first ESG report. While Intellia has integrated ESG information into public filings for years, Lev says this “formalizes what the company has been working on and our commitment to our employees, the community and our shareholders.”
This includes, for example, recruiting women and people of color for scientist and leadership roles and providing them with mentoring opportunities.
It also includes furthering a risk oversight group that company executives and members of the legal team are part of. Lev says having strong governance, which is founded on efforts like this, is especially important as the company grows. This includes regularly assessing and re-assessing enterprise risk and “putting up guardrails,” such as a contract management system.
“With the company expanding, you can’t have a lawyer in every meeting, so you need to trust that functions are in place,” Lev says. “It’s about putting resources where the risks are.”
In their DNA
When Lev joined Intellia as senior counsel in 2017, the company had about 100 employees and everyone seemed to know each other. As of 2022, there were about 600 employees. The legal team, however, is still relatively small. It consists of 24 people, about half of whom are lawyers and half of whom are paralegals, patent agents or other legal professionals.
“It’s a humble, hardworking and collaborative team,” Lev says. “It’s in the DNA of what we do—and as a genome editing company, the pun is intended.”
Prior to Intellia, he gained experience in several areas of law ranging from corporate transactions to healthcare regulation to patent infringement litigation, always focused on the life science industry, except for a stint in-house at a cleantech startup. He began his legal career in 2007 after earning his J.D. from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law.
Outside of work, Lev enjoys being active with his family. The Bostonians enjoy cycling, soccer, tennis, hiking and camping. He says working at Intellia, where he was promoted to his current role in 2021, is just as rewarding.
“I feel fortunate to have a job I love that challenges me every day,” Lev says. “My only career goal is to continue to do that.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Winter III 2023 Edition here.
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