RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Gene editing startup Locus Biosciences is another step closer to actualizing its biotherapeutics against bacterial diseases after landing $35 million in additional capital.
The Morrisville startup said the funds included Series B equity financing and a conversion of an earlier convertible note. Notable investors included Artis Ventures, Tencent Holdings, Viking Global Investors, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc. and Discovery Innovations.
Locus said proceeds will support the advancement of its lead candidate, LBP-EC01, a “precision medicine” combating recurrent urinary tract infections caused by E. coli. It expects to initiate a Phase 2/3 trial in mid-2022. It completed a Phase 1b clinical trial in 2021.
“Locus’ novel scientific approach has the potential to fundamentally change the way bacterial diseases are treated,” said Paul Garofolo, co-founder and CEO of Locus. “We’re grateful for our strong investor syndicate that shares our vision, recognizes the transformative capability of our technology to address urgent areas of unmet medical need, and appreciates our strong financial and operational performance. The latest financing helps Locus accelerate its growth while remaining nimble and adaptable.”
Locus is developing a new class of precision-engineered bacteriophage treatments for a wide range of bacterial and inflammatory illnesses. The company is targeting three therapeutic areas: infectious disease, immunology, and oncology.
Bacteriophages, or crPhages for short, are viruses that attack bacterial cells by injecting DNA that hijacks the cell’s machinery. The infected bacterium is killed and, in the process, releases scores of new phages that attack more bad bacteria.
Locus focuses on two categories of biotherapeutics that address significant unmet medical needs: first, precision products to fight deadly infections, including those caused by multi-drug-resistant bacteria; and second, engineered phage therapies that use bacteria in the body to deliver therapeutic molecules.
The company’s sweet spot is Type 1 CRISPER-Cas3-enhanced bacteriophage therapeutics. Locus starts with naturally occurring phage viruses that infect and replicate within bacteria. It increases their ability to kill germs by arming them with CRISPER-Cas3 DNA-targeting technology that can precisely remove a specific pathogen.
In 2019, Locus entered into a collaboration and license agreement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Johnson & Johnson) to develop and manufacture crPhage products targeting two key bacterial pathogens. Locus received $20 million upfront and is eligible for up to $798 million in potential development and commercial milestones, and royalties on product sales.
In September 2020, Locus signed a contract under which the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority will provide up to $77 million of a $144 million precision medicine program to develop LBP-EC01; and in November 2020, Locus agreed to a contract under which CARB-X would fund up to $12.5 million of a $15 million program to develop a crPhage product to combat antibiotic-resistant K. pneumoniae infections through Phase 1 of clinical development.
Early NCBiotech funding brings Triangle growth
Meanwhile, Locus is expanding its footprint in the Triangle.
The startup currently has 96 employees, up from 72 at the beginning of the year. “We are still hiring,” a Locus spokesperson told the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
Locus got its start in 2015 as a North Carolina State University spinout. NCBiotech supported its early development with $325,000 in loans. In addition, three of the company’s four scientific founders have received NCBiotech grants totaling more than $300,000.
Locus also has built an alliance with Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Accelerator.
(C) N.C. Biotech Center