Two young scientists bag $20M to perfect their CRISPR attack on disease-causing bacteria at upstart Eligo
What if you could find a way to deliver new technology like CRISPR into the teeming microbiome regions inside the human body, delivering instructions to slice into specific strains of troublesome bacteria. Your delivery vessels made of bits of DNA and proteins would have to survive an acid washed storm in the stomach and then appear where needed for an attack on a specific target — such as a rare disease triggered by bacteria.
No easy task, to be sure. But if it worked, you’d have a microbiome engineering platform on which you could build a lineup of programs. And along the way you might make your average antibiotic look like a relic of the last century.
That, in its simplest form, is what Eligo Bioscience is after. And they now have a $20 million round led by Seventure and Khosla — one of those VCs that like nothing better than bankrolling cutting-edge science is search of cool new tech.
At 29, company co-founder and CEO Xavier Duportet has been incubating the technology with €2 million of seed cash at the Institute Pasteur. He’s using tech that he and his cofounder — David Bikard — hatched in labs at MIT and Rockefeller. And now he says the company is ready to move through the final two years of preclinical work as they set the stage for a first-in-humans study in 2020.
“We’re just cutting (DNA),” Duportet tells me, not modifying it as some of the more ambitious CRISPR investigators are looking to do. Over the past two years, they’ve managed to do that successfully in mice. Now one of the big challenges is scaling up a new manufacturing technology so they can start to industrialize the process.
The young biotech exec and his partner have increased the company staff, growing from 7 to 15 with an eye now to build that up to 20. And while France often gets a bad rep among the major R&D players for often contentious labor disputes, Duportet is happy to have his small biotech based in Paris, where the government provides generous tax incentives for research spending and will reimburse the first two years salary of a newly hired PhD.
Right now, that two years is well mapped out. And he has the money for what comes next.