Locus Biosciences Raises $19 Million for Antimicrobials Technology

Locus Biosciences logoLocus Biosciences, born with the help of two loans from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, has raised $19 million in Series A funding from major investors.

The round was led by ARTIS Ventures of San Francisco with additional financing from institutional investors Tencent Holdings Ltd., the Chinese internet conglomerate, Abstract Ventures of San Francisco, and others.

Locus, based in Morrisville, near Research Triangle Park, said it would use the proceeds to support the filing of its first investigational new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and a subsequent first-in-human clinical trial.

The company is developing a next-generation version of CRISPR-Cas, a gene-editing technology, for precision antimicrobials that can combat antibiotic-resistant “superbug” bacteria such as such as Clostridium difficile, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterobacteriaceae.

“The possibilities with the CRISPR revolution inside biotech are limitless, and not just tied to the human genome,” said Stuart Peterson, President of ARTIS Ventures. “The potential behind what Locus is working on is exactly the type of innovation that we have built our investment portfolio around and we are confident that Locus is making great progress on removing deadly pathogens from the human body.”

Locus is developing CRISPR-based “smart bomb” drugs that kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria by selectively destroying their DNA while sparing non-threatening bacteria. It claims to be the only company in the world using CRISPR-Cas3 to kill targeted pathogens.

“Other companies are developing CRISPR applications to modify the human genome, but we are concentrating our efforts on removing deadly pathogens from the body,” said Paul Garofolo, founder and chief executive officer of Locus. “As our technology targets antibiotic-resistant infections without risk to human cells, we can rapidly develop new infectious disease and microbiome therapies that avoid the risks posed by broad-spectrum antibiotics and their selection for antibiotic resistance.”

The company’s approach takes advantage of an adaptive immune system present in many bacteria called the CRISPR-Cas system. Locus designs and creates novel CRISPR RNAs (guide RNAs) that direct the powerful Cas3 enzyme to target and kill bacteria cells by irreversibly destroying bacterial DNA.

This irreversible destruction of DNA is the main differentiator between Cas3 and the more widely known Cas9 enzyme used for gene editing and repair.

Locus’ efforts are timely because many scientists around the world are alarmed about the rise of antibiotic-resistant pathogens that can’t be treated effectively by currently available antibiotics.

Locus, a 2015 spinout of N.C. State University, was started with the help of a $75,000 Company Inception Loan from the Biotechnology Center. NCBiotech followed that with a $250,000 Small Business Research Loan a year later.

Three of the four scientific founders of Locus have also received Biotech Center grants totaling more than $300,000. For example, a 2014 grant of $50,000 went to Rodolphe Barrangou, Ph.D., for a research study titled “Novel CRISPR Systems for Efficient Genome Editing.” Another of the grants represents funding for a Pfizer-NCBiotech Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellows in Gene Therapy fellowship.

NCBiotech grant support for academic researchers’ innovation at early stages often allows for their ideas to grow into entrepreneurial companies, which the Center can then help bootstrap with startup and early-stage loans that wouldn't otherwise be available.

For more information about Locus and its CRISPR-Cas technology, see NCBiotech’s profile of the company, published in January.

Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer
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