French synbio start-up gets $20m funding to build biological nanorobots

27 Sep 2017

Coloured scanning electron micrograph of chains of Streptococcus bacteria. Image: National Science Library/Eligo Bioscience

Led by researchers, a French synbio start-up has secured $20m to expand its technology that builds nanobots for precision medicine.

While organisations such as the World Health Organisation are crying out for new drugs to combat antibiotic resistance, some researchers and start-ups are looking for alternative ways to bring precision medicine to the human body.

One such start-up is France-based Eligo Bioscience, which has revealed new Series A funding worth $20m from Khosla Ventures and Seventure Partners.

Founded in 2014 by a team of researchers, Eligo aims to treat a number of diseases using the human microbiome, which consists of tens of trillions of bacteria within the body and is integral to our health and wellbeing.

Some of these bacteria also contribute to a number of serious conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.

However, ways to maintain the number of ‘good bacteria’ are often left lacking, with prebiotics and probiotics showing varying results, and antibiotics sometimes leading to unwanted side effects.

Eligo’s technology uses greater precision treatment of the microbiome with biological nanobots – which it calls eligobots – made from DNA and protein, which deliver a customised therapeutic payload to specific types of bacteria.

Once the target bacteria have been identified, the nanobots can either kill the bacteria or transiently turn them into drug producers, depending on the payload they carry.

‘Antibiotics are weapons of mass destruction’

“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,” said Eligo CEO Dr Xavier Duportet.

“By engineering the microbiome itself with sniper-like precision, we can address the cause, not just the symptoms, of bacteria-associated diseases.”

The first of the nanobots it has programmed will deliver a CRISPR payload into the gut microbiome to selectively kill pathogenic bacteria. Once inside the bacteria, the CRISPR system scans the bacterial DNA for the culprit gene.

Eligo believes its technology can be applied to other payloads to modulate immune responses, drug metabolism or create transient drug production directly from within the gut.

Speaking of the company’s work, Khosla Ventures partner Samir Kaul said: “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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic