Luis Serrano and Maria Lluch of the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona have founded Pulmobiotics S.L., a pre-clinical life sciences company using synthetic biology to develop new treatments and vaccines for various types of lung diseases. The company has secured €2,000,000 of seed financing from Barcelona-based Invivo Ventures, one of Spain’s leading biomedical venture capital firms.
Founders Maria Lluch and Luis Serrano, alongside representatives from CRG and ICREA, wore PPE and kept their distance while incorporating Pulmobiotics SL during the COVID-19 state of alarm. From left to right: Maria Lluch, Bruna Vives (CRG), , Luis Serrano and Emilià Pola (ICREA).
Respiratory system diseases are one of the main causes of death in the EU and include conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia or asthma. As of 2016, one in twelve EU citizens died from respiratory diseases, around 422,000 people in a single year. In Spain, this figure rises to one in ten citizens, and one in eight hospital discharges are related to respiratory diseases.
Ventilator associated pneumonia (VAP) is a type of lung infection that develops in hospitalized patients on mechanical ventilation machines. Around 400,000 cases of VAP occur annually in Europe and the USA, killing between 3 and 17% of all affected patients and increasing hospitalization costs between $25,000 and $40,000 per patient in the USA.
To develop novel treatments for lung infections like VAP, Pulmobiotics will engineer attenuated bacteria to deliver specific therapeutic agents, one of the most promising applications of the nascent field of synthetic biology. Engineered bacteria can ‘smartly’ deliver a precise amount of therapeutic molecules to the affected tissue, overcoming many of the limitations of current treatments. The company’s aim is to develop a product that reduces the use of antibiotics required to treat VAP and is ready to be tested in patients from 2023 onwards.
Director of the CRG, Luis Serrano, PhD, says: “This is a great example of how an idea that sounded bizarre 15 years ago, like using bacteria as a living “pill” to treat or prevent human diseases, can become a reality. At these times, it shows that doing excellent curiosity-driven science can result in new health and commercial opportunities.”
Chief Scientific Officer, Maria Lluch, PhD, says: “The current COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the importance of finding new ways to treat and protect ourselves against infectious agents. The seed financing from Invivo Ventures will allow us to take the platform we developed at the CRG to the next stage: discovering and bringing to the clinic a new wave of live biotherapeutics and vaccines. We believe that once validated in the clinic, our platform has the potential to quickly bring to market vaccines against novel infectious agents and therefore may be of great value when facing similar situations in the future."
Lluís Pareras, MD, PhD, founding partner at Invivo Ventures says: “Even in the present circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, science cannot and must not stop. Pulmobiotics is trying to solve a problem that is sadly of the utmost relevance today, the existence of infectious diseases that are very difficult to treat. Luis Serrano and Maria Lluch’s synthetic biology approach and their preclinical results in the fight against multi drug resistant infectious agents are extraordinary and have convinced us to invest.”
Albert Ferrer, CFA, founding partner at Invivo Ventures, says: “Invivo aims to support the technology transfer from Spanish research centres and enhance the growth and development of innovative products. The investment in Pulmobiotics is a clear example of this vision and we are particularly pleased that it enables a new business to be setup and create 5 new jobs in this difficult economic environment”.
Anabel Sanz, PhD, Head of the Tech Transfer and Business Development Office at the CRG says: “Pulmobiotics is a great example of the decisive impact of CRG’s fundamental research on public health and economic prosperity and a fruit of ICREA’s strategy to support talented researchers at CRG. A strong team of four young scientists and entrepreneurs trained at CRG will join the company. Born locally in Barcelona, Pulmobiotics aims to create global impact. We are delighted to have InVivo Ventures as a partner in this journey that will propel a technology developed at the CRG to a leading position in the live biotherapeutics and vaccine space”.
Pulmobiotics is initially expected to use laboratory space at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB) and collaborate with a network of Spanish and international partners and providers to develop its products.
Founder and former CRG researcher Maria Lluch will be the Chief Scientific Officer, with CRG Director Luis Serrano being placed as Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board. Luis Serrano brings a wealth of scientific entrepreneurial experience with him, being one of the scientific founders of En Vivo Pharmaceuticals, Diverdrugs and Cellzome, a proteomics technology company acquired in 2012 by GSK for US$99 million in cash.
Claudio Santos, PhD, will step in as Chief Executive Officer. Claudio has a background in life sciences company creation and investment (Sixth Element Capital, UK) and in business development, both in academia (Cancer Research Technology, UK) and industry (Bioncotech Therapeutics, Spain). He has spent the last 8 months working with the founders and the CRG on fundraising and setting up the company.
Lluís Pareras and Albert Ferrer, General Partners at Invivo Ventures, managed by Invivo Capital Partners, will join Pulmobiotics’ Board of Directors alongside Maria Lluch and Claudio Santos.