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Engineered Organ Transplant Company Raises New Funds

Two piglets

(Skeeze, Pixabay)

7 Nov. 2019. An enterprise that applies gene editing to create replacement organs from pigs for human transplant is raising $100 million in new venture financing. The biotechnology company eGenesis Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts is spun-off from genetics research at Harvard Medical School.

eGenesis aims to fill a critical gap in organ donations where the need for new organs far outstrips the supply. According OrganDonor.gov, more than 113,000 people in the U.S. are on the waiting list for donated organs, with another person added to the list every 10 minutes. And despite more than 36,500 organ transplants performed in 2018, some 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant.

The company’s technology uses the gene-editing technology Crispr to enable transplanting organs from pigs, which have organs much the same size and functioning as humans, a process called xenotransplantion. Crispr, for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is derived from bacterial defense systems that use RNA to guide genome-cutting enzymes to precise locations to make the desired edits.

In this case, eGenesis uses Crispr to remove serious obstacles preventing xenotransplantion. One obstacle is the presence of the porcine endogenous retrovirus in pigs, a virus that infects and spreads through human cells. As reported in Science & Enterprise in August 2017, researchers from eGenesis and Harvard edited the genomes in pigs to deactivate the gene responsible for the virus, and enable the deactivated virus to be passed on to future generations. The company also employs Crispr to remove other genetic-based incompatibilities from pig organs that provoke a damaging immune-system response.

eGenesis is a four year-old company co-founded by Luhan Yang, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard, working in the lab of geneticist and company co-founder George Church. Yang is eGenesis’s chief scientist, while Church is a scientific adviser. eGenesis’s lead program is producing replacement kidneys from pigs, but is also advancing islet cells for insulin production in the pancreas. Both programs are in preclinical testing. In 2017, Yang founded another company, Qihan Biotech in Hangzhou, China, that develops Crispr gene editing techniques for regenerative medicine and collaborates with eGenesis on xenotransplantation.

The new $100 million funding is the company’s second venture financing round. The round is led by the venture capital arm of Fresenius Medical Care based in Bad Homburg, Germany, a developer of products and services for people with chronic kidney disease. Joining the funding are previous investors ARCH Venture Partners, Biomatics Capital, Alta Partners, and Khosla Ventures, as well as new investors Wellington Partners and Leaps by Bayer, the pharma/chemical company’s venture arm. In its first venture round in March 2017, eGenesis raised $38 million.

“The concept of cross-species organ replacement, known as xenotransplantation,” says eGenesis president and CEO Paul Sekhri in a company statement, “has re-emerged due to recent advancements in gene editing led by eGenesis, and will become a safe and effective solution for the hundreds of thousands of patients currently on the organ transplant waitlist globally.”

As noted as recently as this week in Science & Enterprise, Church is a serial entrepreneur, founding or licensing discoveries from his labs to dozens of start-up and spin-off enterprises, including eGenesis.

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