GlaxoSmithKline backs a preclinical acne treatment from Eligo Bioscience that uses CRISPR to kill bacteria
Roughly three and a half years since bagging a $20 million financing round to develop its CRISPR-based microbiome modulation platform, Eligo Bioscience has made its first deal with a major pharma player. And it’s one who’s typically on the lookout for new precision medicines.
The French biotech locked down a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline for up to $224 million, the companies announced Monday, aiming to adapt Eligo’s technology into a treatment for the bacteria that causes acne. Under the agreement, Eligo will receive an upfront payment and R&D funding to take the program through the proof of concept phase, after which GSK can exercise an option to license the candidate.
Eligo’s research came out of CEO Xavier Duportet’s PhD studies with his co-founder in Boston in 2013, when the pair were researching how bacteria could be killed very specifically based on genetic sequences using CRISPR. Rather than using CRISPR to modify DNA, like in some of its well-publicized applications, Eligo is merely trying to cut the bacterial DNA within the body’s microbiomes.
The tricky part has been delivering the medicine to its target as precisely and efficiently as possible, Duportet says. To do so, Eligo is using viral particles from bacteriophages in the same vein that gene therapies are administered for humans. Eligo replaces sequences in the viral phages with ones that aim for a specific genetic sequence in the bacteria, and then are delivered without affecting the entire microbiome.
“They inject extremely efficiently their own DNA, their genome, into bacteria — not human cells, just bacteria,” Duportet told Endpoints News.
In acne, the program here is dubbed EB005. The end goal is ultimately to create a topical cream that can be applied to irritated skin, with the product delivering the bacteria-killing phages directly to affected areas. By creating such a cream, EB005 can enter the skin microbiomes as easily as possible, Duportet said.
For GSK, not only did the potential to develop a new type of acne medicine prove appealing, but the applicability of this technology did as well, even though Monday’s deal only covers the acne treatment. GSK exec Emmanuel Hanon told Endpoints that while Eligo’s platform functions neither as a vaccine nor an antibiotic, the end result could end up similar if the products prove able to halt the progression of targeted bacteria.
“It’s not really anything that exists today,” said Hanon, senior VP and GSK’s head of vaccine R&D.
The companies aren’t revealing any sort of timelines just yet, but Duportet noted that GSK’s backing helps validate the technology especially since it’s still in the preclinical stage.