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Biotech Alliance Creating Circular RNA Cancer Drug

Cancer on clipboard

(Nick Youngson,

5 Jan. 2022. A partnership of biotechnology components and therapy companies aims to develop new drugs made from circular forms of RNA, starting with a colorectal cancer treatment. Financial and intellectual property terms of the agreement between Ginkgo Bioworks in Boston and Esperovax Inc. in Plymouth, Michigan were not disclosed.

Esperovax is a four year-old company designing vaccines taken as oral drugs using antigens that interact with immune system cells in the gut. The company’s technology engineers ordinary bakers yeast cells to enable addition and delivery of RNA molecules, including messenger RNA, captured inside nanoscale particles. Those particles today are made from non-infecting virus particles or graphene. The company says its vaccines can be made quickly and stored or transported under ambient conditions, without refrigeration or freezing needed for most injected vaccines.

Ginkgo Bioworks is a provider of materials and tools for synthetic biology applications in health care, agriculture, and industry. The company says it programs DNA in microbes to design new enzymes and other proteins for interaction with cells. Ginkgo says it maintains a library of genes, cells, and proteins known as its Codebase that makes possible rapid development of biotechnology components. As reported by Science & Enterprise in July 2022, Ginkgo Bioworks is taking advantage of consolidation in the synthetic biology industry by acquiring biotech materials developer Zymergen Inc., largely for that company’s automation and software assets.

Extend vaccine technology into cancer therapies

Another recent Ginkgo Bioworks acquisition is Circularis, a developer of circular RNA that merged with Ginkgo in Oct. 2022. Circular RNA are closed single-strands of ribonucleic acid found in organisms from viruses to mammals that code for proteins and can be synthesized and engineered for protein design and production. Before its acquisition by Ginkgo, Circularis was developing circular RNA treatments as gene therapies for rare diseases.

In the partnership with Esperovax, Ginkgo Bioworks says it plans to develop circular RNA therapies for a range of diseases, but beginning with a treatment for colorectal cancer. Esperovax is also developing circular RNA biologic drugs, extending its oral vaccine technology into cancer therapies that can target individual cells within tissue, which Ginkgo seeks to exploit. The objective, says Ginkgo, is a so-called suicide gene therapy, circular RNA that specifically targets and kills cancer cells, but avoids affecting healthy cells.

“Given therapeutic developments in recent years,” says Randy Schekman, a molecular and cell biologist at University of California in Berkeley and an advisor to Esperovax in a Ginkgo Bioworks statement, “the idea of inducing a suicide gene therapy system in a tissue-specific manner has gained traction.” Schekman adds, “As we aim to build off that traction with the ultimate goal of improving cancer patient outcomes, Ginkgo’s momentum and achievements in the therapeutics space made the company an essential and trusted team to partner with, giving us the confidence that we can eventually make this goal a reality.”

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