Dive Insight:

Editas is one of the leading players in the field of gene editing research. In 2019, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company launched the first clinical trial of a CRISPR-based gene editing treatment that works inside the body. Two years later, early results showed the treatment, which is for a rare form of inherited blindness, appears to be largely safe, though data on its effectiveness have been mixed.

While such milestones have helped to maintain investor interest, Editas has had a more difficult time keeping leadership onboard. The company has appointed three CEOs since 2014, with the latest, James Mullen, brought on last year. Mullen was previously CEO at the contract drug manufacturer Patheon and at Biogen, and had been chairman of the Editas board since 2018.

Top Editas executives in charge of finance, science and clinical development have also left.

The termination of Michaels continues that trend, and appears to leave Editas without a chief medical officer at an important point in its clinical programs. Not only is the trial for its eye treatment, known as EDIT-101, still running, but so is another that’s testing an experimental therapy for sickle cell disease.

“The reasons behind the decision are unknown, but this does not boost confidence given a mixed clinical signal to date for [EDIT-101] and a company with a history of high management turnover,” wrote Luca Issi, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, in a note to clients Monday.

Shares in Editas fell by more than 6% on the news in Tuesday morning trading.

Editas says it’s working quickly to find a replacement chief medical officer, according to analysts at Stifel who spoke to company leadership. Editas also gave reassurance that the EDIT-101 and sickle cell programs would continue to advance through testing as planned.

Still, “we believe the departure of this magnitude, at this time, is likely to be seen as negative optics (at minimum) if not a greater issue,” wrote Stifel analyst Dae Gon Ha in a Feb. 7 note.