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Infographic – Emerging U.S. Tech Hubs

Chart: Austin, Miami, Dallas investments

Click on image for full-size view (CB Insights)

28 May 2022. If it seems Science & Enterprise reports more often on developments in Boston, New York, and San Francisco/Silicon Valley, you would be correct. Much of U.S. technology investment and business activity is centered in those urban regions. Data posted on Thursday by technology intelligence company CB Insights, however, show over the past year, cities in Texas and Florida are now attracting more technology venture deals, if not dollars.

The CB Insights data indicate since the beginning of 2021 venture capital investments in tech companies are gaining in Austin and Dallas, and the number of deals is also on the rise in Miami. Start-ups in Austin and Dallas raised $1.8 billion and $2.3 billion respectively during the first quarter of 2022, in 105 deals for Austin and 54 deals in Dallas. New tech companies in Miami attracted a record 81 venture deals in Q1 2022, although the dollar volume of those deals dropped by half to $1.1 billion in the first quarter of 2022.

CB Insights says, “Austin is now the fastest-growing major metro area in the US, with an estimated 184 new residents each day.” And, says the report, Austin is gaining tech workers at a higher rate than any other U.S. metro area, citing data from LinkedIn. Much of those gains, according to CB Insights, is at the expense of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, led by Tesla and Oracle that moved their headquarters to Austin during the pandemic.

In Dallas, as shown in the chart, tech investment dollar volumes exploded in Q4 2021 and Q1 2022, while the number of venture deals are trending upward since the beginning of 2021. In Miami, the number of deals is steadily rising over the past five quarters, while total investment dollars dropped in from Q4 2021 to Q1 2022. CB Insights says for the U.S. as a whole, venture investment dollars dropped from $92 billion in Q4 2021 to $71.2 billion in Q1 2022, while deals inched up from 3,225 to 3,261.

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Grant Funds Epilepsy Stem Cell Therapy Trial

Brain activity graphic

(Gordon Johnson, Pixabay)

27 May 2022. A developer of stem cell therapies for neurological disorders is receiving an $8 million grant to advance a treatment for a common type of epilepsy. California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is awarding the funds to Neurona Therapeutics in South San Francisco to support a clinical trial of its experimental therapy for mesial temporal lobe epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures with symptoms ranging from blank stares to tingling sensations to loss of consciousness. Mesial temporal lobe epilepsy, or MTLE, is a variation of the disorder, marked by focal onset seizures, where individuals are awake and aware of seizures, or their awareness is impaired. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, temporal lobe epilepsy is the most common form of the disorder with focal seizures.

MTLE occurs in the medial or internal structures of the brain’s temporal lobe, the part of the brain largely responsible for consciousness and long-term memory, as well as playing a role in processing visual images and sound. About eight in 10 temporal lobe seizures are from MTLE. While some people with MTLE respond to anti-seizure drugs, as many as one-third of those with the condition do not respond to medication, leaving surgery to remove the responsible region of the brain the only treatment option.

Neurona Therapeutics is creating treatments for neurological disorders with allogeneic or off-the-shelf stem cells. The company derives its cell therapies from embryonic pluripotent stem cells, induced to transform into functioning brain cells, both neurons and glia cells that support neurons. Neurona says its cell lines represent the medial ganglionic eminence, a class of precursor cells that develop into cerebral cortex tissue. The company says its approach replaces damaged neurons and glia cells causing neurological disease with its regenerative cell treatments, and cites preclinical studies by the company’s scientific founders and colleagues as evidence.

Repair hyperexcitable neural networks

Neurona’s lead product, code-named NRTX-1001, is designed as a one-time treatment for drug-resistant focal epilepsy, such as MTLE. The company says NRTX-1001 is derived from medial ganglionic eminence cells transforming into neurons that limit the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid associated with seizures in epilepsy. Neurona says NRTX-1001 is injected into the brain, targets the region responsible for seizures, and non-destructively replaces damaged or dysfunctional cells. The company says its preclinical studies show NRTX-1001 suppresses seizures without signs of dose-limiting toxicity.

“Our regenerative cell therapy approach has the potential to repair the hyperexcitable neural networks that underlie focal epilepsy,” says Neurona’s chief medical officer David Blum in a company statement. “About a third of individuals with epilepsy have drug-resistant seizures. Removal or ablation of the affected temporal lobe can be an option, but many people with epilepsy are not eligible or interested in a tissue-destructive procedure.”

Based on this evidence, says Neurona, Food and Drug Administration cleared the start of a early- and mid-stage clinical trial assessing NRTX-1001 against a placebo in people experiencing MTLE seizures. The study is enrolling 40 participants, with the first 10 participants testing various doses of the therapy. In the next stage of the trial, 30 participants are randomly assigned two-to-one to receive NRTX-1001 or a placebo. Participants in the study are tracked for a year, looking mainly for signs of adverse effects, but also changes in the frequency of seizures.

CIRM, a California state agency supporting stem cell research, announced yesterday an award to Neurona of $8 million for the clinical trial. The agency notes in a statement that “current therapies for drug-resistant epilepsy are only partially effective and have serious drawbacks.” CIRM adds that with NRTX-1001 “cells are injected into the brain in the area affected by the seizures where they release a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger that will block the signals in the brain causing the epileptic seizures.”

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Biobank Study to Assess Obesity Types, Genetics

Bathroom scale

(StillWorksImagery, Pixabay)

26 May 2022. A study is now enrolling individuals to better understand different types of obesity, as well as genetics and other factors behind various obesity conditions. The research is conducted by Phenomix Sciences, a company in St. Paul, Minnesota, founded by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, where first participants are recruited.

Phenomix Sciences is a five year-old biotechnology enterprise seeking to discover precise analytics for obesity that the company says is a collection of different conditions, not a single disorder. Phenomix identifies four types of obesity: (1) consuming too many calories without feeling full, (2) feeling hungry shortly after eating, (3) eating in response to emotional triggers, and (4) slow metabolism where calories are burned inefficiently. The company says it bases these four types of obesity on data compiled from research by its founders, gastroenterologists Andres Acosta and Michael Camilleri, who study obesity at the Mayo Clinic.

Phenomix says addressing specific types of obesity can lead to better outcomes for individuals, by focusing on precise underlying causes of weight gain, and prescribing interventions with a better chance of success. The company says research by its founders indicate more precise treatments for obesity can achieve up to twice the amount of weight loss as generalized therapies.

Interactions between DNA and other factors

In a review article published in Dec. 2020, Acosta and colleagues identified an initial set of biomarkers that point to different phenotypes, or traits and characteristics of obesity. The findings identify a wide range of contributing factors to obesity and treatments for the condition, beginning with genetics, related epigenetics and transcribed proteins, and extending to diet and nutrition, response to medications, and microbiome activity. The authors recommend more in-depth analysis to associate these underlying factors to various obesity phenotypes.

The new study aims to enroll 2,000 individuals at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota undergoing treatments for obesity. Participants will give samples for a biobank and registry, collecting their DNA with other data on medical history, race, ethnicity, socio-economic factors, education, and other behavioral and environmental factors. The study team will analyze the findings to relate genomics with other data to better understand interactions between an individual’s DNA and other factors that contribute to excessive weight gain. The company says the biobank and registry will make it possible to devise tests for identifying treatments that address precise underlying causes for obesity and improve outcomes for patients.

“Our biobanking agreement with Mayo Clinic,” says Mark Bagnall, CEO of Phenomix Sciences in a company statement, “is an important opportunity to make vast strides in how we understand the complexities of obesity treatment. We believe the biobanking registry investment will better support obesity centers by providing concrete evidence and insights into how DNA and other factors need to be considered in treatment.”

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High Speed Genetics Tech Start-Up Raises $15M

Digital DNA

(Pete Linforth, Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/dna-life-biotechnology-evolution-4068826/)

25 May 2022. A start-up enterprise developing a high-performance genomic screening and detection technology is raising $15 million in early financing. Pleno Inc., a two year-old business in San Diego, is creating a process it says combines a number of biological analytics into a single rapid workflow for medical applications and research.

Pleno seeks to simplify biological measurements for medical screening and diagnostics to make detection of disease faster, with more tests covering a wider range of conditions than currently performed from a single sample.  The company says its technology, called hypercoding, adapts signal processing techniques from the telecommunications industry for simultaneous measurement and analysis of biological indicators. According to IEEE, signal processing is a process derived from electrical engineering that models and analyzes data representing a range of physical events across multiple disciplines.

In its hypercoding technology, Pleno says those disciplines cover genomics and related processes including DNA, RNA, protein content, and methylation, a mechanism for testing responses of DNA when methyl group compounds are added, particularly gene functioning and expression. As reported by Science & Enterprise in June 2020, a spin-off company from University of Oxford in the U.K. is adapting DNA methylation to develop a stable and sensitive liquid biopsy for detecting multiple types of cancer in their early stages.

“Enable the simultaneous and rapid detection of more targets …”

Pleno says its hypercoding technology can detect up to 10,000 targets per sample, and process up to 10,000 samples per day with a simple low-cost workflow, but offers no data to substantiate those claims. In addition, the company says its techniques are the equivalent of 1,000 times the multiplex target capacity of polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests, such as those for detecting SARS-CoV-2 viruses in nasal swabs, and 100 times the sample processing throughput of next-generation or high-throughput genomic sequencing.

“The Covid-19 pandemic,” says Pieter van Rooyen, founder and CEO of Pleno Inc. in a company statement released through BusinessWire, “demonstrated the limitations of our current biological research and testing paradigms in terms of capability, scalability, throughput, and cost.” Van Rooyen adds, “Our technology was born from the desire to enable the simultaneous and rapid detection of more targets, from more samples at a dramatically lower cost ….”

Pleno Inc. is raising $15 million in advance of its first full venture funding round, led by life science investors Medical Excellence Capital in New York and Alexandria Venture Investments in Pasadena, California. Among the company’s investors is biotechnology entrepreneur Gregory Lucier, who will chair Pleno’s board of directors. “This isn’t an incremental innovation,” notes Lucier, “it’s a game changer for biomedical research and the widespread clinical adoption of applications like liquid biopsies.”

The company is currently incubating at EvoNexus, a not-for-profit technology incubator in San Diego. Pleno says it plans to apply the new funding to further develop its hypercoding technology as well as hire additional staff.

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AI Drug Company Creating Covid-19 Therapy for Rapid Delivery

Global Covid-19

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

24 May 2022. A company applying artificial intelligence to drug discovery says it designed a new oral drug for Covid-19 infections that can be quickly produced. Insilico Medicine says its yet-unnamed, preclinical, small-molecule therapy candidate acts against SARS-CoV-2 viruses responsible for Covid-19 and other coronaviruses, and can be quickly synthesized, reducing production time.

Insilico Medicine, based in New York, provides drug discovery and design as a service to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, but in recent months began discovering its own drug candidates and advancing them into clinical trials. The company’s technology uses deep learning, a class of A.I. algorithms that finds underlying relationship patterns, then builds those relationships into a drug discovery database. Insilico says its process applies an A.I. technique called generative adversarial networks that use two sets of algorithms to test each other, helping reveal and learn underlying relationships, while also optimizing data.

With these data relationships defined, says the company, the next step is identifying targets through another deep learning system that analyzes gene, transcription, protein, and clinical data sets. Insilico says it then applies its drug design technology to create therapeutic molecules from scratch, which meet predefined criteria and properties, such as chemical complexity, molecular shape, metabolic stability, and solubility. In February 2022, Science & Enterprise reported on the company’s first drug candidate for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, discovered and designed in 18 months, that began early-stage clinical trials.

Targeting replication enzymes

Insilico says it started investigating therapies for Covid-19 infections early in the pandemic. While many drug makers first sought to apply available anti-viral drugs to treating Covid-19, Insilico says its initial research showed drawbacks with many current anti-virals when applied to SARS-CoV-2 viruses, and chose instead to discover new therapeutic molecules. And its initial work also sought a different target from other drugs. Instead of addressing proteins on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 spikes, as most coronavirus vaccines and treatments up to now, Insilico targeted protease enzymes that cause the virus to replicate.

That investigation, says Insilico, revealed a 3C-like protease in SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses as a prime target. The company says the 3C-like or 3CL protease in SARS-CoV-2 is active early in the viral replication process, thus blocking its effects can limit the virus from reproducing and spreading. “This molecule designed by AI has distinct pharmacophores from existing 3CL protease inhibitors,” says Insilico’s chief scientist Feng Ren in a company statement released through Cision, “and binds to the target protein in a unique, irreversible, covalent binding mode as demonstrated by a co-crystal structure.”

Using its design process, Insilico says it created a small-molecule oral drug candidate that inhibits the 3C-like protease in SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses. The company says these molecules can be efficiently synthesized from two readily available raw materials, thus produced quickly. In addition, says Insilico, initial preclinical studies suggest the drug works effectively in low doses, and can be given alone instead of combined with other anti-viral drugs.

Ren adds Insilico Medicine is “committed to progress the molecule as fast as possible into clinical trials evaluating its usage in Covid-19 treatment.”

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Trial Shows Therapy Controls Gut Disorder with Healthy Microbes

C. difficile

Clostridium difficile bacteria (James Archer, CDC)

23 May 2022. Results from a clinical trial show a microbiome treatment produces healthy gut microbes that reduce recurrences of C. difficile infections. Findings from the trial were presented this weekend by researchers from Seres Therapeutics Inc. in spoken and poster presentations at the 2022 Digestive Disease Week annual meeting in San Diego.

Clostridium difficile or C. difficile infections often result from bacteria contracted in in health care facilities. The disease, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, causes diarrhea that can become life-threatening, and also result as a side-effect of antibiotics. People age 65 or older taking antibiotics, particularly those in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, as well those with previous C. difficile infections or weakened immune systems are considered most vulnerable.  CDC says in 2017, C. difficile was responsible for some 223,900 cases, leading to 12,800 deaths in the U.S.

Seres Therapeutics is a biotechnology company in Cambridge, Massachusetts developing therapies for the microbiome, communities of bacteria and other microbes in the gut, associated with health conditions in the digestive tract and elsewhere in the body. The company focuses particularly on disruptions in the microbiome that increase susceptibility to infections, inflammatory disorders, or cancer. The Seres technology is based on a library of microbial strains from healthy donors, subjected to computational analyses to identify microbial collections associated with healthy and diseased states. The company then assesses these combinations to find collections of microbes for correcting disruptions and return the microbiome to a healthy state.

Seres’s lead product, code-named SER-109, is an an oral drug for C. difficile. The company derives SER-109 from refined Firmicute spores, bacteria in the gut associated with obesity and microbiome disruptions known as dysbiosis. SER-109 is designed to rebuild healthy microbes and rebalanced the microbiome after taking antibiotics for C. difficile, taken as a capsule by patients each day for four days. In July 2021, Science & Enterprise reported on the company licensing SER-109 to Nestlé Health Science that could bring Seres as much as $525 million if all terms of the deal are fulfilled.

Recurrences within two weeks of taking antibiotics

The late-stage clinical trial enrolled 182 individuals with three or more C. difficile infections, and also taking antibiotics. Participants were randomly assigned to receive SER-109 or a placebo capsule, then tracked for 24 weeks. The study team looked primarily for recurring C. difficile infections in the eight weeks after participants took SER-109 or a placebo, as well as further C. difficile infections and any adverse effects for up to 24 weeks.

Results from the trial show 88 percent of patients taking SER-109 do not experience recurring C. difficile infections, compared to 60 percent for placebo recipients in the eight weeks after taking the drug or placebo. The study team also found C. difficile recurrences are most likely to occur in the two weeks after taking antibiotics, when the microbiome is most vulnerable. Adverse effects during the trial, says Seres, were similar for SER-109 and placebo recipients.

In a separate analysis of stool samples from participants in the trial, the study team found SER-109 recipients with higher concentrations of fatty acids including butyrate, valerate and hexanoate, associated with inhibiting C. difficile bacteria. During the first two weeks after the treatment, SER-109 recipients show rapid increases in these fatty acids, which stay higher than placebo recipients for eight weeks.

“These findings suggest,” says Seres’s chief medical officer Lisa von Moltke in a company statement, “that the first two weeks following antibiotic treatment is the time when microbiome therapeutics have the greatest potential benefit, by restoring bacterial diversity and disrupting the cycle of recurrent C. difficile.”

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Infographic – 100 Promising AI Companies

CB Insights AI 100

Click on image for full-size view (CB Insights)

21 May 2022. Artificial intelligence, or A.I., is underpinning more and more of our daily work and life in general. And A.I. algorithms are becoming a key part of a scientist’s toolkit for analytics, diagnostics, and drug discovery, as we report almost daily on Science & Enterprise. As a result, A.I. is attracting a good deal of business interest, seen in more new enterprises and investment money worldwide for applications across a range of industries and A.I. development tools.

The technology intelligence company CB Insights now compiles an annual list of new companies creating A.I. applications and tools, with the 2022 collection published this week. CB Insights uses a number of criteria to identify these 100 start-ups, including R&D activity, market potential, and technological novelty, with the list broken down into cross-industry applications, industry-specific applications, and development tools.

Of the three main categories, specific A.I. industry applications are the largest category, making up 43 of the 100 new companies in the CB Insights list. Nearly a quarter of those industry applications, 10 of 43, are in health care, including Insilico Medicine, based in Hong Kong. Science & Enterprise has reported several times on Insilico Medicine, which first began offering A.I. analytics as a service for drug discovery, and now discovers and develops its own treatments.

CB Insights says the 100 companies overall raised some $12 billion from 650 investors since 2017, with 39 of the companies still in seed or first-round venture financing. In the links below are Science & Enterprise stories describing venture funds created this year seeking to finance A.I. advances or applications.

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Addiction Therapy, VR Companies Partner on Veteran PTSD

Man in virtual reality headset

(PublicDomainPNG, Pixabay)

20 May 2022. A developer of addiction therapies and virtual reality software company are collaborating on help for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The partnership brings together BioCorRx Inc. in Anaheim, California that develops medications for people with alcohol and drug addictions, often combined with clinician-guided therapy programs, and 2B3D, a company in Newport Beach, California offering virtual and mixed-reality gaming experiences, but also software to assist with health care, including treatment for PTSD.

BioCorRx produces medication therapies through its pharmaceutical subsidiary for people with addictions to alcohol, opioids, and other drugs.The company’s lead program is a small pellet implanted under the skin, delivering the addiction therapy drug naltrexone continuously for three months. Naltrexone and other medications are available to help people with substance abuse disorders, but they often face a problem with compliance, since they require frequent dosing or administration in a clinic. The BioCorRx treatment is designed to overcome that problem. Last month, Science & Enterprise reported on the start of an early-stage clinical trial testing the drug, code-named BICX104.

A separate BioCorRx division offers the Beat Addiction Recovery Program that combines cognitive behavioral therapy with peer-group support, sometimes assisted with medications. Cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to highlight negative or false patterns of beliefs, then test and restructure them. By addressing these patterns, say therapists, individuals and their clinicians can develop healthier ways of thinking that replace negative beliefs.

VR, backed by blockchain

2B3D is an enterprise owned and operated by veterans that offers virtual, mixed, and augmented reality games, working in the “metaverse” that seeks to merge virtual and physical worlds. The company says its VR technology and experiences can be extended beyond games to endeavors where individuals interact through avatars in groups or communities to achieve work objectives, social goals, or health needs.

2B3D says interactions through its communities are based on blockchain, a system for capturing data about transactions in a networked ledger, but with data distributed among the various parties to the transactions. Data about a transaction are broken up into blocks, with each block connected in a chain. Each block is also time-stamped and encrypted with an algorithm giving it a unique identifier or fingerprint, also linked mathematically to the previous block in the chain. This linking of uniquely identified and encrypted blocks in the chain ensures the integrity of the data, as well as protects the data from hacking.

The company develops a VR experience called VRx providing virtual worlds for health communities and families to support therapy programs. To help veterans deal with PTSD, 2B3D provides VRx free to veterans, who interact with each other through game-style experiences. In the new collaboration, the companies aim to combine 2B3D’s VRx with BioCorRx medication and clinical programs. The companies cite data from 2017 showing veterans with substance abuse disorders are more than twice as likely to die from suicide than other veterans.

“PTSD changes brain chemistry in much the same way substance abuse and addiction do,” says Tom Welch, executive vice-president of BioCorRx in a company statement. “Often, these disorders form at the same time and feed off one another.” Rob Bell, CEO and founder of 2B3D, adds “Our virtual reality solution for PTSD will be available to all veterans, but for those who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, there’s only so much we can do with virtual reality alone.”

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Venture Investor Funds Cell Therapy Targeting Tech

SomaCode team

Oliver Dodd, left, and Soufiane Aboulhouda, leading the SomaCode project (Wyss Institute, Harvard University)

19 May 2022. A venture capital company is funding biomedical engineering research to improve the reach and targeting of cell therapies to more diseases. The project is part of Northpond Labs, a joint undertaking of Northpond Ventures in Cambridge, Massachusetts, providing $12 million for five years to support researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University developing biomedical technologies with commercial promise.

The Wyss Institute project known as SomaCode seeks to solve a continuing problem with cell therapies, increasing the reach of these treatments to more organs and tissue in the body. As of last year, says Wyss Institute, cell therapies approved so far by FDA address blood-related cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, due largely to the relative ease of injected cells in reaching diseased cells in blood. Reaching diseased cells in solid organs and tissues, however, is a more complex problem, which SomaCode is taking on.

SomaCode is an initiative from the lab of George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and a core faculty member at Wyss Institute. Doctoral candidates Soufiane Aboulhouda and Oliver Dodd lead the project that adapts high throughput genomic analysis to identify molecular signatures acting as unique indicators of specific diseases. For many diseases, those signals are generated by inflammation, associated with specific regions in the body. In some diseases, however, inflammation signals can change, making it more difficult for the immune system to find precise locations of diseased cells.

Second Northpond Labs project

Wyss Institute says SomaCode addresses this problem by genetically modifying immune-system cells to add in better targeting properties. The modified cells are collected in a pool of cells, which the researchers test for addressing specific disease targets. By repeating this process, says Wyss Institute, the SomaCode team can find cellular alterations that reliably reach diseased cells, and produce engineered cells with gene editing techniques like Crispr that work as therapies.

Northpond Labs began in 2020 as a vehicle for Northpond Ventures to support emerging biomedical technologies developed at Wyss Institute addressing important unmet needs, and with high commercial potential. SomaCode is the second technology supported by Northpond Labs. The first funded project is called eRNA, creating a more efficient and inexpensive manufacturing process for synthetic RNA oligonucleotides, short RNA sequences used in therapeutics and genome editing.

Both SomaCode and eRNA are validation projects at Wyss Institute. Validation projects have proven their concept and meet predefined technical, product development and intellectual property criteria for commercialization. Researchers on validation projects add in technical features and properties that build a stronger case for commercialization, and reduce risks to potential investors.

Aboulhouda notes in a Wyss Institute statement that the Northpond funding “allows us to significantly accelerate this exciting research,” and that the team looks forward “to work with and learn from the incredible interdisciplinary team at Northpond.” Michael Rubin, Northpond Ventures’ founder and CEO adds, “The SomaCode project team really impressed us with their systematic approach to addressing a therapeutic challenge, supported by milestone-driven deliverables and entrepreneurial drive.”

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Precision Antibacterial Company Raises $35M in New Funds

E. coli bacteria

E. coli bacteria (Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

18 May 2022. A biotechnology company creating targeted antibacterial and microbiome treatments aided by gene editing is raising $35 million in new venture funds. Locus Biosciences Inc. is a developer of antibiotics using synthetic biology and the gene editing technology Crispr to treat bacterial infections, as well as treatments for other diseases influenced by bacterial activity.

Locus Bio, a seven year-old enterprise in Morrisville, North Carolina, says it engineers viruses called bacteriophages, or phages, natural enemies of bacteria that infect and replicate inside bacteria, where the viruses produce lysin enzymes. These enzymes then break down the walls of bacterial cells, destroying the bacteria. The company says it combines high-throughput drug discovery processes with artificial intelligence to find phages with the needed properties to combat specific bacteria, then designs a collection of phages for each target.

In addition, says Locus Bio, its technology uses the gene-editing technique Crispr to destroy bacteria targeted by engineered phages. Crispr — short for clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats — edits the genomes of organisms with bacterial defense mechanisms using RNA to identify and monitor precise locations in DNA. In most gene editing cases, Crispr uses enzymes like Cas9 that cut DNA at precise locations. Locus Bio, however, says it replaces Cas9 with the enzyme Cas3, which shreds DNA beyond repair, killing bacterial cells.

Evidence of lower E. coli levels

The company’s lead product, code-named LBP-EC01, is a treatment for urinary tract infections or UTIs caused by e. coli bacteria. UTIs occur most often among women, in the bladder and urethra. If left untreated, these infections can spread to the kidneys or beyond with serious consequences. National Kidney Foundation says urinary tract infections are responsible for some 10 million doctor visits a year in the U.S., with at least 1 in 5 women likely to have an infection in her lifetime.

Locus Bio conducted an early-stage clinical trial of LBP-EC01, completed last year, which the company says met all of its safety objectives and shows evidence of lower E. coli levels in the bladders of UTI patients. Science & Enterprise reported on the start of the trial in Jan. 2020. Locus Bio says it has other products in its pipeline in preclinical development that address diseases of the microbiome, communities of bacteria and other microbes in the body, many of which are essential to good health.

The company is raising $35 million in its second venture funding round with investors that include Artis Ventures, Tencent Holdings, Viking Global Investors, Johnson and Johnson Innovation, and Discovery Innovations. Locus Bio is collaborating with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson, in developing LBP-EC01. The new financing includes a convertible note that converts a previous loan to equity. According to Crunchbase, Locus Bio raised $93.7 million in earlier rounds.

The company says in a statement it plans to apply the new funds to a mid- and late-stage clinical trial of LBP-EC01 and preclinical work on microbiome diseases, as well as further develop its manufacturing facilities. Locus Bio says its manufacturing plant is a self-contained facility for making viral therapeutics, which the company wants to enhance for producing solid-dose oral drugs.

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Disclosure: the author owns shares in Johnson & Johnson

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