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Company Launches to Discover Gut-Brain Therapies

Sarkis Mazmanian

Sarkis Mazmanian (California Institute of Technology/Getty Images)

30 November 2016. A California Institute of Technology biologist is starting a new enterprise to discover treatments for neurological disorders through pathways originating in the gut. Axial Biotherapeutics Inc., co-founded by Caltech’s Sarkis Mazmanian, is also gaining $19.2 million in its first venture funding round.

Axial Biotherapeutics has an exclusive, worldwide license from Caltech for research by Mazmanian on signaling pathways between communities of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes in the human gut, known as the gut microbiome, and diseases of the central nervous system. Some tens of trillions of microbes are believed to reside in the gut, with researchers increasingly discovering interactions between the microbiome and conditions not often considered gut-related, including various cancers and neurological diseases.

Mazmanian’s lab at Caltech studies molecular processes of symbiotic bacteria in the gut on various human disorders, combining work in genomics, microbiology, immunology, and neuroscience. Some of the lab’s recent work focuses on pathways from the gut to the brain, including research showing associations in mice between changes in gut bacteria and autism spectrum disorder. Mazmanian’s findings also identify potential therapies based on probiotics that support the health of intestinal bacteria.

Axial plans to build on Mazmanian’s academic research to discover microbial-targeted therapeutics that address autism spectrum disorder and other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease. “There is mounting evidence that the gut microbiome is implicated in brain development and neurological health,” says David Donabedian, Axial’s co-founder and CEO in a company statement. “And we believe we are at the forefront of generating new avenues for microbiome-targeted therapeutic interventions in multiple neurological diseases and disorders.”

Axial Biotherapeutics, which will be based in Boston, is raising $19.15 million in its first round of venture financing. The venture round is led by life science and health care investment companies Longwood Fund, where Donabedian is a partner, and Domain Associates. Other participants include Kairos Ventures, Heritage Medical Systems, and undisclosed individual investors from California.

“By interrogating the biological link between the gut microbiome and the brain, we are discovering pathways and mechanisms that can be leveraged to develop novel treatment options for vastly underserved diseases,” adds Mazmanian. “The discovery that changes in the gut microbiome may cause neurological diseases is a paradigm shift and opens entirely new possibilities for treating patients.”

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