Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and Locus Biosciences signed a contract, for BARDA to co-fund the development of CRISPR–Cas3-enhanced bacteriophage (crPhage™), LBP-EC01, a product that targets Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria responsible for recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) affects 150 million people each year, across the world, out of which 80% are infected through E.coli bacteria, and 40% of the infected populous witness a recurrence of the infection within few months post the first emergence of the infection. Antibiotic-resistant E.Coli was identified as a serious and urgent public health threat by the CDC, requiring the development of new treatments.
Under this contract, BARDA will initially provide upto USD 77 million, from its USD 144 million precision medicine program, to Locus Biosciences to support Phase II and Phase III clinical trials. LBP-EC01 is a bacteriophage cocktail engineered with CRISPR-Ca3 constructs targeting the E.Coli genome. It uses a novel dual mechanism of CRISPR-Cas3, which targets the DNA of E.Coli, degrading it permanently, while simultaneously making use of the natural lytic activity of bacteriophages. This unique mechanism enables it to kill bacteria resistant to antibiotics and can be a potential pioneer in current times with the increasing antimicrobial-resistant infections.
Locus Biosciences’ CRISPR-Cas3 technology was licensed by Janssen in 2019, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, scoring an upfront payment of USD 20 million and USD 792 million in milestone payments post-development and commercialization. In 2018, Locus Biosciences acquired the Bacteriophage Discovery Platform that identifies novel therapeutic phages from EpiBiome. With a Government agency like BARDA vouching for this antibiotic-resistant therapy, Locus Biosciences seems to be the leading the pack, developing cutting edge technology aimed at combating this global threat through funding from BARDA, debt financing of USD 12.5 million and USD 19 million series A funding.
BARDA also funded Vedanta Biosciences’ VE303 drug candidate, which restores the natural balance of bacteria in the body to prevent infection of Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile), which effects 250,000 million people annually in the United States with an observed recurrence in 20% of cases and causing 12,800 deaths per year. Vedanta Biosciences received initial funding of USD 7.36 million for advancing the development of VE303. Based on milestones achieved, this funding could go upto USD 76.9 million in a span of nine-and-a-half years. VE303 is the first BARDA supported live bio-therapeutic product and also received support from CARB-X, the world’s largest public-private partnership, launched in 2016 to combat the threat of drug-resistant bacteria rising globally.