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Biotech to Explore Gut-Brain Connections, Raises $44M

Brain wiring illustration

Brain wiring illustration (Courtesy, Human Connectome Project and NIH)

10 December 2015. A new biotechnology start-up plans to derive medical and consumer products from interactions between the human gut and brain. Kallyope Inc. in New York City is founded by biomedical researchers at Columbia University and raising $44 million its first venture funding round.

Kallyope is designing a technology that harnesses communication pathways between the human gut and brain, with the goal of developing therapies for disorders stemming from those connections, as well as nutritional products that support them. The company is founded by three researchers in biochemistry, neuroscience, and molecular biology at Columbia University bringing different but complementary perspectives to developing this platform.

Richard Axel, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2004, studies sensory stimulation, particularly the sense of smell, which has basic and wide-ranging functions for many animal species. Biochemist and neuroscientist Charles Zuker also studies sensory cell signaling and information processing. including the senses of taste and space. Tom Maniatis, who chairs Columbia’s biochemistry and molecular biophysics department, researches genetics of the nervous system as well as harnessing stem cells in therapies for degenerative disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. He also leads the university’s precision medicine program.

“The gut-brain axis functions as a two-way information highway between the gut and the brain,” says Maniatis in a company statement, “providing an unprecedented opportunity to access and influence brain centers involved in a variety of fundamental human processes.” The company expects to take advantage of developments in genetic sequencing, circuit mapping, neural imaging, and bioinformatics in generating its products and services.

Kallyope is raising $44 million in its first venture funding round. The financing is led by investment companies Lux Capital, Polaris Partners, and The Column Group, with participation by Alexandria Venture Investments, genomic systems company Illumina Inc., and individual life science investor Tony Evnin.

Nancy Thornberry is Kallyope’s CEO, joining the company from Merck, where she led Merck’s diabetes and endocrinology operations. Kallyope is located in New York’s Alexandria Life Science Center, near many of the city’s medical and research institutions.

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