As part of the collaboration and licensing agreement, Locus Biosciences will develop, manufacture and commercialise CRISPR-Cas3-enhanced bacteriophage (crPhage) products.
In return, Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, will pay $20m (€17.5m) up front. The company also agreed to $792m in further payments, dependent upon development and commercial milestones.
The crPhage technology works by targeting the DNA of specific bacteria, destroying their cells while leaving non-target bacteria in the human body unaffected.
Many companies using CRISPR have focused on targeting human cells in the body in order to combat genetic disease, but this has proved both controversial and the safety of such an approach is yet to be fully established.
Paul Garofolo, CEO of Locus, said in a statement: “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.”
According to the company, one of the potential uses of the platform could be to combat antibiotic-resistant infections.
With major companies exiting antibiotics R&D, there has been a renewed push from regulators to find new means of encouraging the development of new antibiotics and combatting the rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
This shift in the industry could allow Locus’ technology to plug a needed gap in the market.
The company’s primary focus will remain on the infectious diseases market, particularly developing a treatment for lung infections. Clinical trials for the crPhage technology will begin in 2019.
This deal represents the second licensing deal that Janssen has completed in the space of a month; at the beginning of December, it signed a potential $1.8bn deal with argenx for the rights to a treatment (ARGX-110) for acute myeloid leukaemia.