This Scientist Is Building Custom Gene-Editing Tools–And Stands to Make Billions

July 25, 2023

(Forbes) – In 2013, Benjamin Oakes was hellbent on getting his PhD while working on the bleeding edge of molecular engineering: refining a gene editing tool, Crispr, that promised to some day cut DNA as precisely as a pair of scissors. There were two leading research groups at the time — one at the University of California, Berkeley, led by future Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna, the other at the Broad Institute jointly run by Harvard and MIT — and Oakes was vacillating endlessly between them. Which is how he found himself one day in Doudna’s house, part of a gathering of promising students being considered to work in her lab.

There, he met David Savage, then a professor at Berkeley who had just started his own lab focused on engineering proteins like ones used in Crispr systems. Oakes had interviewed to join Savage’s lab, too, but in the more relaxed setting they geeked out over the potential of new tools in the space accurate enough to essentially cut a function from one protein and paste it into another. Not long after, Oakes solved his career conundrum: he joined both labs, where his research focused on improving the gene-editing potential of Crispr by making protein engineering tools more customizable and controllable. (Read More)