By using gene editing to unlock new sources of safe and human-compatible organs, eGenesis hopes to cut down the long and tragic delays faced by those waiting for a potential transplant, including more than 113,000 people in the U.S. alone.
Now, the xenotransplantation firm has raised a staggering $100 million for its efforts, led by the venture capital arm of the dialysis provider Fresenius Medical Care, one of the largest companies on the front lines of end-stage and chronic kidney diseases.
eGenesis’ series B round also included new backing from Wellington Partners and Leaps by Bayer, the German pharma’s breakthrough investment unit. The company’s previous investors, including ARCH Venture Partners, Biomatics Capital, Alta Partners and Khosla Ventures, participated as well.
The proceeds will help advance eGenesis’ kidney xenotransplant into clinical testing as well as accelerate its programs in developing insulin-producing pancreatic islet cells, livers, hearts and lungs from other animals.
“The concept of cross-species organ replacement, known as xenotransplantation, has re-emerged due to recent advancements in gene editing led by eGenesis, and will become a safe and effective solution for the hundreds of thousands of patients currently on the organ transplant wait list globally,” eGenesis President and CEO Paul Sekhri said in a statement.
While pigs have been considered the donor with the most potential for transfer to humans, obstacles in virus transmission and the body’s immune response have prevented the use of organs, tissue or cells.
CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies can help address those problems, according to eGenesis. It’s not too far-fetched: The usefulness of CRISPR-Cas9’s ability to identify and snip certain pieces of DNA was first discovered as part of a bacteria’s immune response against certain invading viruses.
eGenesis hopes these methods can be wielded against the endogenous retroviruses found in pig organs, as well as against the body’s rejection of foreign material. It’s currently developing a kidney transplant as its lead candidate and hopes to expand its future work in xenotransplantation to areas such as cell therapy.
Olaf Schermeier, Fresenius' CEO for global R&D, described eGenesis’ approach as “a truly transformational option for patients with kidney disease.”
The kidney was the first human organ to be successfully transplanted, in 1954. Today, eGenesis estimates that a new name is added to the U.S. transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. About 90 procedures are performed daily; however, about 20 people die each day due to a lack of available organs. Fresenius, meanwhile, estimates that 3.4 million people globally undergo hemodialysis on a regular basis.