French start-up Eligo Bioscience has won $20 million of funding to move its innovative synthetic biology forwards. The Series A round included Khosla Ventures, Seventure Partners and a $2 million award from the Worldwide Innovation Challenge.
The autonomous delivery of medical supplies is an exciting prospect. But instead of dropping medicine via parachute, Eligo Bioscience is looking to make a bigger impact on a much smaller scale. The company’s biotherapeutic platform is capable of making precision deliveries to the human microbiome: the complex and vast community of microbes present inside and on the body.
Engineering the microbiome
Research suggests that the microbiome sits “at the interface of health and disease.” The notion of ‘friendly bacteria’ has helped raise awareness of this, but there are many other bacteria types that have been linked with serious conditions and diseases, including colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Despite its importance to our health, we don’t yet have a way to selectively intervene at a bacterial level. Current solutions include prebiotics and probiotics, which are designed to have a restorative impact on ‘good’ bacteria but vary in effectiveness. And there are antibiotics, which kill bacteria indiscriminately. More importantly, their use is contributing to the emergence of resistant infections and superbugs. The situation is so serious that the World Health Organization has predicted that antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections will be a leading cause of death by 2050.
Eligo is developing a unique solution: the world’s first programmable biotherapeutics platform. The idea is to treat diseases at their source while improving overall microbiome health. The new technique has been dubbed ‘eligobiotics’.
Eligobiotics are closer to biological nanobots than conventional drugs. They are made from DNA and protein and are able to deliver a customized therapeutic payload to specific types of bacteria. Once the target bacteria have been found, eligobiotics can either kill them or transiently turn them into drug producers.
Eligo CEO, Dr Xavier Duportet, said “Antibiotics are weapons of mass destruction: extremely powerful but imprecise. With eligobiotics, we can precisely intervene on the microbiome – targeting specific bacteria for interventions of our choice. By engineering the microbiome itself with sniper-like precision, we can address the cause, not just the symptoms, of bacteria-associated diseases.”
Funding the future of medicine
The potential of Eligo’s biotherapeutic platform lies in its versatility. Currently in testing is an application capable of delivering a payload into the gut to selectively kill pathogenic bacteria. In contrast to the all-or-nothing approach of antibiotics, it allows the remaining flora to reestablish a healthy balance.
The team predicts that different payloads could be used in future to modulate immune responses, alter drug metabolism and even create transient drug production from directly within the gut.
“Xavier and the Eligo team have managed to use the tools of synthetic biology to create an elegant solution to an unbelievably complex problem: how to target, with extreme precision, the root causes of microbiome-associated diseases,” said Khosla Ventures partner Samir Kaul.
“We’re proud to lead this investment in Eligo Bioscience, a shining example of an innovative startup using the tools of synthetic biology to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.”
In a statement, Eligo has confirmed that the latest investments will be put towards strengthening the biotherapeutic platform and proving its worth in real-life scenarios. Clinical trials are on the horizon and the company is expecting to grow its international team of scientists, engineers and executives.
On 31 October & 1 November 2017, Internet of Business will be holding its Internet of Health USA event at the Royal Sonesta in Boston, MA. This event is North America’s only conference focused 100 percent on IoT applications for health providers and payers.