Research Triangle Park, NC, and Union City, CA; July 17, 2018 – Locus Biosciences Inc., an emerging biotechnology company developing CRISPR-Cas3-engineered precision antibacterial products, announced today its acquisition of EpiBiome, Inc.’s high-throughput bacteriophage (“phage”) discovery platform. Pairing EpiBiome’s powerful phage isolation and characterization capability with Locus’s CRISPR-based synthetic biology platform and clinical development team creates a combined entity that is rapidly developing products to treat antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections and precisely edit the microbiome. Terms of the deal are undisclosed.
Locus is the world leader in CRISPR-engineered phage therapeutics, uniquely leveraging the powerful Type I CRISPR-Cas3 system to specifically destroy the DNA of target bacteria cells, quickly killing them. This DNA-shredding technology is the most potent mechanism of action for driving programmed cell death using CRISPR and is functionally distinct from the better-known Cas9 systems used in gene editing. Locus is the exclusive global licensee of the foundational CRISPR-Cas3 patent estate from North Carolina State University and Duke University.
An Emerging Global Crisis
Phage have been used to kill bacteria for more than 100 years but fell out of favor when highly effective antibiotics were developed in the mid-20th century. However, abuse of antibiotics in agriculture and their over-prescription in medicine is creating a global crisis through the rapid emergence of antibiotic resistance. Scientists around the world are sounding the alarm that we are entering a post-antibiotic era in which all currently available antibiotics will soon be ineffective. This crisis has renewed interest in phage therapeutics.
Locus’s CRISPR-Cas3-engineered phage (“crPhage”) platform has the potential to revolutionize the way antibiotic products are developed by combining the extraordinary human safety profile of phages with the efficacy advantage of CRISPR. crPhage products kill target bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant superbugs, while leaving the many species of good bacteria in the body unharmed. The acquisition of EpiBiome’s automation platform helps Locus develop these crPhage products much more rapidly.
This advancement in technology is crucial, as many large pharmaceutical companies have exited the antibiotics market due to the time, prohibitive costs, and risk related to developing new antibiotics. Furthermore, when a powerful new class of antibiotics does make it to market—an exceedingly rare event today—doctors and health systems often hold it in reserve to treat only those patients who don’t respond to anything else. With Locus’s approach, the time, cost, and risk are reduced and there is no need to hold back effective products, making crPhage product development much more appealing than traditional antibiotic development to large pharmaceutical companies.
“EpiBiome built the world’s most effective automated platform for finding novel therapeutic phages,” said Paul Garofolo, CEO of Locus Biosciences. “Adding this high-throughput screening, genomics, and bioinformatics platform to the front end of our synthetic biology pipeline significantly accelerates our engineering of new phage products targeting specific bacterial populations, reducing the time to IND for new programs to as little as 12 months. We also expect to complete clinical development in less than half the time of traditional antibiotics.
“We’re proud of the one-of-a-kind high-throughput phage discovery platform that EpiBiome built – it has allowed us to create phage cocktails targeting a broad array of human pathogens effectively tackling the challenge of antibiotic resistance,” said Dr. Nick Conley, co-founder and chief science officer of EpiBiome.
“We are thrilled to partner with Locus, a world-class phage engineering company, to improve efficacy levels beyond what natural phages can achieve and to secure the intellectual property protection demanded by strategic partners,” added co-founder and CEO of EpiBiome, Dr. Aeron Hammack.
In addition to strengthening its phage discovery platform, this transaction adds additional assets to the Locus development pipeline including a Staphylococcus aureus program and assets targeting other ESKAPE pathogens, which are the leading causes of nosocomial infections globally. The acquisition also enhances Locus’s ability to develop phage cocktails to address dysbiosis in the human microbiome, which will enable Locus to rapidly tackle large-market indications such as inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer.
About Locus Biosciences
Locus Biosciences is an emerging biotechnology company developing CRISPR Cas3-engineered precision antibacterial products. Its novel approach leverages an adaptive immune system present in many bacteria called the CRISPR-Cas system to engineer bacteriophages that precisely kill target bacteria while leaving non-targeted beneficial bacteria unharmed. With venture capital funding from ARTIS Ventures, Tencent Holdings, Abstract Ventures and others, Locus is rapidly moving its lead programs into clinical development for infectious disease and microbiome indications, with the first clinical trials on track to begin in 2019. For more information about Locus visit https://www.locus-bio.com/.
Founded in 2013 in the San Francisco Bay Area, EpiBiome developed a high-throughput automated phage discovery platform integrating next-generation sequencing, bioinformatics, machine learning, and directed evolution technologies to rapidly create phage cocktails targeting pathogens with high unmet medical need. EpiBiome was a member of the inaugural class of Illumina Accelerator, providing a strong foundation for its phage and bacterial genomics platforms, and later, won admission into the Johnson & Johnson Innovation JLABS ecosystem, where it developed its automated phage discovery platform. Major backers Viking Global Investors, Matrix Capital Management, TechAccel, Stanford-StartX, SV Tech Ventures, and Illumina Accelerator funded the company’s development.