Carbon-Negative Chemicals, Eli Lilly Plans $700M Boston Institute, Top 10 Biotech IPOs

Eli Lilly announced plans to build a $700M genetic medicine institute in Boston yesterday. The institute will develop nucleic acid-based therapies.

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Good morning. Eli Lilly announced plans to build a $700M genetic medicine institute in Boston yesterday. The institute will develop nucleic acid-based therapies. And two babies are the first to receive a gene therapy for Tay-Sachs, a rare neurological disorder caused by genetic deficiencies in a protein called HexA. The gene therapy uses a viral vector to deliver the hexA gene to brain cells, thus restoring production of the missing enzyme.

The therapy is expensive. Its development was funded by the parents of one of the children who participated in the trial. Thus far, the gene therapy has been successful, according to Miguel Sena-Esteves, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who was involved in the project:

The first child who received our gene therapy treatment was age 2 ½, with late-stage disease symptoms. Three months after treatment, they had better muscle control and could focus their eyes. Now at age 5, the child is in stable health and is seizure-free, which usually isn’t possible for patients at this age. A second child treated at age 7 months had improved brain development by the three-month follow-up and remains seizure-free at a little over age 2.

Read more at The Conversation.

Carbon Negative == Positive

Drive an hour east of my hometown and you might encounter an unassuming, squat building of glass and concrete. Large windows overlook a grassy knoll, planted with young trees. These are the LanzaTech headquarters, a company at the forefront of using microbes to convert factory emissions into ethanol (about 90,000 tons per year). Now, the company has added new products to their catalog.

For a recent study, which appeared Monday in Nature Biotechnology, researchers engineered Clostridium autoethanogenum, a bacterium first isolated from rabbit poop, to produce acetone and isopropanol from steel waste gases. The process is a carbon-negative way to manufacture commodity goods. LanzaTech collaborated with a group of synthetic biologists at Northwestern University, led by Michael Jewett, for the project. The team screened 247 bacterial variants before pinpointing the best chemical producer. The general approach is vastly expandable, and could be used to convert steel waste gases into a wide range of commodity goods.

Read more at New Scientist or Science (link).

Universal Organs

Organ transplant wait lists are often long and tortuous. Some people wait years for a heart or kidney or lung. A new method could help.

Researchers first took lung tissue from people with type A blood. Each blood type has unique antigens; the antigens for type A are different from type B. The researchers bathed the lung tissue in a liquid with two enzymes — FpGalNAc deacetylase and FpGalactosaminidase. These enzymes strip antigens from the lung tissue, converting them into lungs that can be given to patients with any blood type.

The enzymes removed more than 99 percent of A-type antigens from red blood cells, and more than 90 percent of antigens from the aortae of the lungs. A paper outlining the technique appeared in Science Translational Medicine last week.

Read more at Ars Technica (originally published at WIRED).

Top IPOs

Of the top ten biotech IPOs in 2021, in terms of company proceeds, nine stocks are down from their initial asking price. Just one of the stocks, Verve Therapeutics, has seen a gain in share price. Sana Biotechnology IPO’d at $25/share and was the largest IPO in 2021; their share price now sits around $6.20.

Read more at Fierce Biotech.

Briefly Noted

Foods altered with biotechnology (like CRISPR) are not considered organic, even though selectively bred and mutagenized crops are. The result is mass confusion for consumers, at a time when GMO crops can feed a growing global population. The Daily Beast

Venture investments in Japanese biopharmaceutical companies tripled in 2021, compared with 2020, in deals totaling $98M. A Belgian VC, called Newton Biocapital, has now launched a $170M fund, with plans “to invest in around 15 Japanese and European startups.” Labiotech

The U.S. Department of Energy will give $19M in grants for projects that engineer algae to capture carbon dioxide. The drive is part of a larger trend in government priorities: curb climate emissions while bolstering American biomanufacturing. Popular Science

More soon,

— Niko