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Gene-Edited Transplant Organ Company Raises $125M

Happy pig

(Marion Streiff, Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/pig-alp-rona-furna-sow-happy-pig-214349/)

2 Mar. 2021. A spin-off enterprise from academic labs is raising $125 million for genetically edited pigs to produce organs for human transplantation. eGenesis, in Cambridge, Massachusetts gained the funds in its third venture round since the company’s founding in 2015, based on research by its scientific co-founder geneticist George Church at Harvard University.

The company aims to help solve the continuing shortage of organs needed for transplants. According to the web site organdonor.gov, more than 107,000 people in the U.S. are on waiting lists for organ donations, with 17 people expected to dies each day waiting for a transplant. And while some 39,000 transplants were performed in 2020, only 3 in every 1,000 deaths in the U.S. allow for organ harvesting, due to circumstances of the death or no advance permission from the patient.

eGenesis’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, short 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 the journal Science 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.

Lead programs: replacement kidneys and islet cells

eGenesis is a six year-old company co-founded by Luhan Yang, then a postdoctoral researcher in Church’s lab. Yang has since moved on to start another business, using Crispr for regenerative medicine, while Church continues as a scientific adviser to eGenesis. Science & Enterprise has followed the company since its founding, reported on its first and second venture funding rounds of $38 million and $100 million respectively.

The company’s two lead programs, both in preclinical stages, are developing genetically edited kidneys and islet cells in the pancreas needed by people with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition that attacks islet cells. Also in preclinical development are genetically edited hearts and livers, as well as livers for perfusion, a procedure to separate the liver’s blood supply to allow for high doses of anti-cancer drugs.

eGenesis’s third venture round is raising $125 million from new and previous life science and health care investors. The company says it plans to use the proceeds for advancing its kidney and islet cell programs to human proof-of-concept studies, as well as furthering and scaling-up its gene-editing technology to meet good manufacturing practice standards.

New investors in eGenesis are Farallon Capital ManagementPolaris Partners, HBM Healthcare InvestmentsInvus, Samsara BioCapital, LifeSci Venture Partners, Irving InvestorsCatalio Capital Management, SymBiosisAltium Capital, Monashee Investment Management, and Osage University Partners. Current investors taking part in the round are Leaps by Bayer, Fresenius Medical Care Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, Wellington Partners, Khosla Ventures, and Alta Partners.

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