Five Takeaways From “Boston’s Life Science Disruptors”

James Collins | Via Xconomy | October 2, 2015

Cool technology. Now, what to we do with it? Atlas Venture’s Peter Barrett and Ankit Mahadevia were interested in MIT professor Jim Collins and protégé Timothy Lu’s latest work. The synthetic biology specialists had two things cooking: a tools platform to “rewire organisms,” and an idea for engineered microbes that could serve as living drugs or diagnostics. Mahadevia’s response: “We really want to do something with you guys, we just don’t know what.”

A month later, Atlas decided no to the tools, and yes to the living drugs. But how to use them? Collins’s preference—wiping out infectious diseases, like a cholera infection. Mahadevia’s response: “We still want to do something with you guys, we just don’t know what.”

It took a suggestion from Atlas entrepreneur-in-residence Dean Falb to figure out what to do. He showed Collins a list of 12 rare genetic metabolic disorders, all of which Collins had never heard of. The microbes made sense here—they could either make a metabolite that is missing, or break down a toxic one. The medical need is significant, and Synlogic could run small, inexpensive clinical trials for it.

“I thought this was brilliant,” Collins said. Synlogic is now targeting phenylketonuria and urea cycle disorders.