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Synthetic Bio Companies Partner on Therapeutic Microbes

DNA chip graphic

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

12 Apr. 2022. A developer of therapies from engineered microbes is collaborating with a synthetic biology components company on tools to create engineered gut bacteria. Financial and intellectual property terms of the agreement between Persephone Biosciences in San Diego and Ginkgo Bioworks in Boston were not disclosed.

Persephone Biosciences is a five year-old enterprise creating synthetic microbial therapies for infants and patients at large. The company assesses interactions among microbial communities, also known as the microbiome, in the gut and elsewhere in the body to improve the efficacy of drugs. The microbiome is an emerging area of research and opportunity for therapies, including for diseases not usually associated with bacteria or the gut.

The company conducts large-scale observational studies, collecting data from participants’ stool and blood samples throughout the U.S. over months at a time. Persephone Bio uses the data to create databases linking these samples to participant health records, which offer insights into gut microbes and the immune system. The company says it applies advanced analytics, including algorithms, to find links between genomic properties, proteins, biomarkers, and microbial populations in the gut.

Persephone Bio partners with drug maker Janssen, a division of Johnson & Johnson, to help design more precise treatments for colorectal cancer. And as reported by Science & Enterprise in March 2021, the company is assessing the impact of gut microbes on immune responses generated by vaccines protecting against Covid-19 disease.

Synthetic biology toolkit

Ginkgo Bioworks develops synthetic biology and engineering tools for biotechnology in medicines, agriculture, and bio-based materials with a platform the company says enables design and programming similar to computer software. Ginkgo  Bioworks offers synthesized nucleic acids, including DNA, to design microorganisms for producing special-purpose enzymes and other bio-chemicals. The company says its codebase — a library of cells, enzymes, and genetic programs — helps shortcut the discovery process for generating new bio-engineered products. In addition, Ginkgo Bioworks provides robotics and software, including artificial intelligence, to support its synthetic biology and engineering work.

The agreement calls for a collaboration between the companies on new therapies from an engineered form of bacteria known as bacteroides. These microbes live in the human gut in an anaerobic or oxygen-free environment, where they’re part of a healthy microbiome. When they escape into the environment, however, they become pathogenic and can also cause infections resistant to antibiotics.

Yet, according to the companies, bacteroids are also good candidates for genetic engineering. The collaboration aims to develop synthetic biology tools for Persephone Bio to design synthetic bacteroids with therapeutic properties, as well as a new microbial therapy using these tools. “This collaboration not only provides Persephone with critical engineering capabilities,” says Persephone Bio co-founder and CEO Stephanie Culler in a Ginkgo Bioworks statement, “but also sets the stage for us to further partner with Ginkgo, and access its platform’s scale, on additional future projects.”

Jason Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks adds, “The microbial medicines space is one we are deeply committed to, and we look forward to further developing our anaerobic engineering capability to help foster the next-generation treatments Persephone is developing.”

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Disclosure: The author owns shares in Johnson & Johnson.

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