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Locus Biosciences Acquires EpiBiome Bacteriophage Discovery Platform

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Locus Biosciences said today that is has acquired EpiBiome's high-throughput bacteriophage discovery platform.

Locus is developing CRISPR-Cas3-engineered precision antibacterial products, and aims to pair EpiBiome's phage isolation and characterization system with its own CRISPR-based synthetic biology platform to develop products to treat antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections and precisely edit the microbiome. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Locus's approach to killing target bacteria uses CRISPR-Cas3 to irreversibly destroy bacterial DNA. CRISPR-Cas3 has unique properties that allow it to target and eradicate specific bacterial populations, unlike CRISPR-Cas9, which is primarily used to edit genomes. Locus is also the exclusive global licensee of the foundational CRISPR-Cas3 patent estate from North Carolina State University and Duke University.

"EpiBiome built the world's most effective automated platform for finding novel therapeutic phages," Locus CEO Paul Garofolo said in a statement. "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."

Locus further noted that the transaction adds assets to its development pipeline, including a Staphylococcus aureus program and products targeting other ESKAPE pathogens. The acquisition also enhances the firm's ability to develop phage cocktails to address dysbiosis in the human microbiome.

EpiBiome, which graduated from Illumina's Accelerator program in 2015 and raised $6 million in a Series A financing round in 2016, said last year that it was working on harnessing genomic technology to develop phage-based therapies for bacterial infections. The firm had also received $300,000 in funding from the Gates Foundation and US Department of Defense to use genomics to identify bacterial resistance pathways, as well as factors that make bacteria less pathogenic.

In January, Locus partnered with IDbyDNA to create a companion diagnostic using that firm's next-generation sequencing platform, Explify. The companion test will be deployed to help select patients and ensure a more successful clinical trial for Locus' LBx-PAO1 antimicrobial product, which uses CRISPR-Cas3 to target Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The firm also raised $5 million a year ago to support the development of antimicrobial therapeutics based on CRISPR-Cas3 technology.