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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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