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Smart-Bug Maker Synlogic Nabs $5M From Gates Foundation

Xconomy Boston — 

Synlogic, one of the newer biotech startups to come out of Cambridge, MA, already strung together nearly $30 million when it announced its launch in July. Now it’s topping off that round with some financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help tackle some of the world’s bigger health problems.

Synlogic says the Gates Foundation has committed $5 million to its existing $29.4 million Series A round. As part of the investment, Synlogic will work with the Gates Foundation to use its technology—a platform to produce custom-made bacteria that serve as little drug-making factories—on applications “relevant to the developing world.”

Synlogic didn’t specify what those applications are, though Gates Foundation global health president Trevor Mundel said in a statement that Synlogic’s technology could lead to new therapies “for some of the most severe diarrheal diseases.”

The company also named Paul Miller, a former AstraZeneca and Pfizer executive, as its chief scientific officer (Dean Falb, formerly of Millennium Pharmaceuticals, had been running the startup’s scientific operations out of the gate—he’s now listed as the company’s chief technology officer). Alison Silva, a former executive at Cequent Pharmaceuticals (now owned by Marina Biotech), is Synlogic’s chief operating officer.

Synlogic was founded with the backing of Atlas Venture and New Enterprise Associates and is based on the research of Boston University’s James Collins and MIT’s Timothy Lu. The company is trying to perfect a method of manufacturing microbes that are programmed to sense a specific disease or infection, secrete a drug to treat it, and then self-destruct when they are done.

Synlogic hasn’t disclosed the applications it intends to pursue with this technology. Acting president and Atlas partner Ankit Mahadevia said in July that the company was in talks with potential partners that had new ideas for the company’s technology.

The Gates Foundation has increasingly sought to back biotech startups aligned with its mission over the past few years. Cambridge-based Genocea Biosciences (NASDAQ: GNCA), Visterra, Research Triangle Park, NC-based Liquidia Technologies, Stanford University spinout Atreca, and U.K.-based Kymab are among the biotech startups it’s invested in.