Locus Biosciences gets funding for CRISPR

 In February 2019

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A 3-year-old Triangle startup has inked a potentially lucrative deal with a health care giant. Locus Biosciences could receive as much as $818 million from a license agreement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, part of New Jersey-based health care products company Johnson & Johnson. Locus will use its CRISPR gene-editing technology to develop potential treatments for respiratory and other infections. The Morrisville-based drugmaker will receive $20 million upfront and is eligible for another $798 million if certain milestones are met. Locus also could receive royalties on future product sales.

CRISPR is lauded as a promising new technology in developing treatments for antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, which affect at least 2 million Americans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Locus uses a CRISPR platform to target common infections such as Clostridium difficile, a common hospital-acquired infection, and E. coli.

The technology selectively targets unwanted bacteria from the body while leaving “good” bacteria intact. “Our platform is uniquely positioned to selectively eradicate pathogenic bacteria of choice while preserving an otherwise healthy microbiome in patients, and this collaboration with Janssen will enable us to further develop products on the platform to help patients in need around the world,” CEO Paul Garofolo said in a news release.

Locus was started in 2015 based on research by scientists from N.C. State and Duke universities. After obtaining initial capital from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, the company raised $19 million in 2017 from investors including Artis Ventures and Abstract Ventures, both based in San Francisco, and China’s Tencent Holdings. Garofolo is a former Patheon executive and chief information officer at Valeant Pharmaceuticals, now Bausch Health.


Heels hoop-la

Tar Heel basketball fans can relax and enjoy their wine and cheese knowing that Ol’ Roy isn’t likely to leave anytime soon. In December, UNC Chapel Hill extended coach Roy Williams’ contract by eight years. Williams’ base salary will increase to $800,000 in 2027-28, up from nearly $542,000 this season. Supplemental compensation and earnings from Nike and Learfield Communications contracts will bump his pay significantly: Overall, he’s likely to pull down between $3.9 million and $5.2 million annually over the next 10 years, not including bonuses.

Even with the extension, Roy won’t match NCAA Division I basketball’s highest-paid coach. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who turns 72 this month, receives total compensation of
$8.98 million, according to USA Today’s annual ranking of highest-paid coaches. Coach K has led the Blue Devils since 1980 and has won five national championships. Williams’ teams have won top honors three times in his 15 years at UNC.

Williams, who grew up near Asheville, will be 78 when his contract expires in 2027-28. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, 74, now the oldest Division I head coach, told fans in 2017 that he expected to work for another five or six years. Clearly, 80 is the new 40.


Energy boost

MATI

Mati, the former dorm-room startup that is marketed as a healthier alternative to Red Bull, Monster and other energy drinks, kicked off the new year with a fresh look, its first zero-calorie flavors and a new office at downtown Durham’s WeWork coworking space.

The beverages, which recently obtained organic certification, are sold in grocery stores including Whole Foods and The Fresh Market, on Amazon.com, and on Mati’s website. Last fall, the company raised $2 million from existing investors to expand into more natural-foods stores in the Southeast and along the East Coast and in cafeterias, college campuses and other venues. Another fundraising is planned in early 2019, according to CEO Eric Masters, who joined the 20-employee company in July.

“We are already the No. 2-selling drink in the category at Whole Foods in the Southeast channel as a whole. That’s just indicative of how much consumers love us, and indicative of the opportunity as we continue to expand and grow into other retailers and other outlets.”

Mati is made from fruit juices, carbonated water and a tea-like mixture produced from the leaves of guayusa, a holly tree grown in Ecuador. It contains a naturally occurring alkaline called theobromine.

“Theobromine acts as a natural time release for the caffeine, so that you do not get a spike or jittery when you first drink the Mati and you don’t get a crash at the end,” Masters says. A serving has about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee.

Masters’ background includes 10 years in marketing and brand management at Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. He was an early investor in Mati, which was founded in 2012 by former Duke University student Tatiana Birgisson. He became CEO after Birgisson stepped down last year. The company has raised about $8 million. Mati operates a 30,000-square-foot production facility in Clayton.

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