Lumen Bioscience reels in $16M Series B to 'democratize' biologics
It all started with spirulina — a nutrient-packed superfood popular on the West Coast.
The photosynthetic microalgae has been commercially farmed since the 1970s. But Lumen Bioscience co-founders Brian Finrow and Jim Roberts aren’t looking to supplement their diets. They believe spirulina can be engineered to deliver therapeutic proteins and treat diseases like traveler’s diarrhea, norovirus and C. difficile colitis. And Lumen just reeled in a $16 million Series B to prove it.
The most recent round builds on the $11.2 million Series A the Seattle-based company landed in 2017.
Most modern biologic drugs are “obscenely expensive” to manufacture with traditional technology, said Finrow, who is also the company’s CEO. Some cost between $100 and $200 per gram to make.
“That’s all affordable, actually barely, if you’re making a drug for rich-world diseases like, you know, arthritis or cancer. Because, you know, our healthcare system can afford that. But there are all kinds of diseases where that’s just way too expensive to go after them,” he said. “So that was the basic intuition… That this microorganism spirulina, which is so cheap to grow that you can just eat it as a food, if you can engineer it, it would be a way to break this cost problem.”
The CEO said his company hopes to “democratize” biologic drug technology by cutting manufacturing costs.
“Now that we can manufacture it cheaply enough, we can make it available for the mass market,” he said.
The idea isn’t new. “A lot of people have tried to engineer spirulina before and failed” due to technical issues, Finrow said. But Roberts and a collaborator have demonstrated their attempt works as billed, and they’re now advancing drugs in the clinic.
Finrow and Roberts founded the biotech in 2017 with 8 employees. In 2018, they patented their technology platform. And now, they have 50 employees, one candidate entering Phase II for traveler’s diarrhea, and two other programs heading for clinical trial. The company also commissioned its cGMP manufacturing plant, which produces about 3 kg of drug material per week to support its programs. The business is growing “like gangbusters,” Finrow said.
The company will use Series B funding to push its norovirus enteritis and C. diff colitis programs into the clinic. Finrow expects the programs to enter the clinic by next year.
Lumen’s lead program for traveler’s diarrhea is partly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. LMN-101, a cocktail of “monoclonal antibody-like protein biologics,” is designed to neutralize the bacterial pathogens Campylobacter jejuni and enterotoxigenic E. coli. The pathogens are also behind infant mortality and morbidity in the developing world. Lumen’s potential solution has completed Phase I, and should enter Phase II in early 2021.
“Our manufacturing system is dead simple,” Finrow said. Picture a fish tank, with LED lights on the outside. “That simplicity means that the cost of making the product is a small fraction of the $100 to $200 per gram of antibody” using traditional tech, he said.
“So that’s why we can make both the volumes you need to go after these global diseases, these hugely prevalent diseases,” he added later.