Synlogic, Ginkgo join forces to ramp up development of 'living medicines'

Synlogic and Ginkgo Bioworks have inked a deal to discover and develop living medicines, or engineered microbes, aimed at treating liver and neurological diseases by targeting the gut. 

Specifically, said Synlogic CEO Jose-Carlos Gutiérrez-Ramos, Ph.D., the duo will combine Synlogic's drug discovery and development chops with Ginkgo's industrialized synthetic biology platform in order to accelerate the production of engineered probiotics. 

Synlogic focuses on so-called synthetic biotic medicines, which are designed to perform metabolic functions in the gut that are either missing or damaged in patients, the company says. It has a candidate in the clinic for hyperammonemia, or excess ammonia in the blood, which can be caused by liver disease. Another candidate, for phenylketonuria, will enter the clinic in the first quarter of next year, Gutiérrez-Ramos said. 

Both treatments work from the gut but control metabolites that act in other parts of the body, namely the liver and brain. 

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The company is tapping Ginkgo for its breadth and scale; while it can develop a handful of programs on its own, accessing Ginkgo's automated foundry for high-throughput organism screening and design will allow it to advance "dozens of programs" concurrently, he said. 

Billing itself as "the organism company," Ginkgo engineers microbes to produce ingredients for flavor and fragrance companies. In 2015, the company said it wanted to expand in the cosmetics, probiotics and pharmaceutical spaces. The Synlogic partnership is Ginkgo's first chance to use its tech for therapeutics development, said Ginkgo CEO Jason Kelly, in a statement.

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The partnership aims to build a joint discovery engine and generate drug leads en route to a portfolio of living medicine drug leads, the companies said. The pair will jointly seek partners to help with building this portfolio, clinical development and commercialization, but declined to give further details. 

The gut microbiome has been a hot topic of late. A number of microbiome-related supplements are on the market, but Synlogic is taking it a step further by engineering microorganisms that can take over gut functions that do not work in some patients, said Ginkgo Chief Business Officer Ena Cratsenburg. 

This is something that can be done in a systematic way, with scale, said Gutiérrez-Ramos.  

"It's not something we will do on our own. We think that at the right time and with the right value, we would love to partner with a company that has the scale and breadth in neurological or liver disease to really bring this platform to patients."