Locus Biosciences, a biotech company based in North Carolina, is moving forward with its first clinical trial for its CRISPR-based antimicrobial drugs, backed with $19M in Series A funding.
A number of biotech companies are trying to use the gene-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 to help treat human diseases, but Locus is the only company across the globe using an alternative path, the CRISPR-Cas3 to help the issue of multidrug-resistant bacteria, reported CEO Paul Garofolo.
“Selecting the right tool for the job at hand is critical for success,” he states. “Both Cas3 and Cas9 are very capable solutions in their own rights, but Cas3 causes irreversible DNA damage—think Pac-Man chewing up the target bacteria’s DNA—resulting in cell death. As such, it is the overwhelming correct choice for an antibacterial product.”
Their first round of funding was led by Artis Ventures, followed by Tencent Holdings, Abstract Ventures, and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center plans to fund the company through an IND filing and first clinical trials.
Currently, the first trial looks like it will entail Locus’ main product for recurrent Clostriium dificile infections, though Garofolo adds the biotech is, “in discussions with several strategic partners regarding C. diff and other assets, so it is possible that priorities could shift based on those discussions.”
“Locus’ CRISPR-Cas3 technology can be used for the potent removal of specific pathogens, including multidrug-resistant bacteria, while leaving the rest of the microbiome intact,” quoted Garofolo.
“This highly targeted approach reduces the selective pressure that favors emergence of resistance to traditional antibiotics. Because we target multiple sites within the bacterial genome, it will be much more difficult for the target bacteria to evolve resistance than with a traditional antibiotic.”
The CEO plans to move full steam ahead to get CRISPR into the clinic and adds the company has already hired a handful of new employees with its Series A funding, bringing the team to now 14 employees, where seven have Ph.D degrees. That headcount should increase to 25 by the end of next year, which will probably result in an additional laboratory and office space is required.
This round of funding takes Locus’ total fundraising to $21 million to date and will permit the company to “enter strategic partnering discussions from a position of financial strength,” reported Garofolo, who is hoping to sign the first deals within the next 12 to 18 months.