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Engineered Probiotic Maker Gains $2.3M Seed Funding

Zack Abbott and John Oliver

Zack Abbott, left, founder of ZBiotics, with company vice-president John Oliver (ZBiotics)

12 Mar. 2020. A developer of genetically-modified bacteria designed to work in the gut is raising $2.3 million more in seed funds to expand its product line. ZBiotics in San Francisco is a four year-old company founded by microbiologist Zachary Abbott, with one product already on the market: a probiotic drink to prevent an alcoholic hangover.

ZBiotics makes a drink with genetically-modified bacteria that the company says can prevent a hangover, when taken before imbibing alcohol. The bacteria is designed to break down the compound acetaldehyde produced by the body’s metabolism of alcohol. Acetaldehyde is toxic, and in the liver the compound is further metabolized into acetate, a less harmful substance. When drinking to excess, however, the liver often reaches its limit to process acetaldehyde, allowing more toxins to flow unimpeded into the blood stream, causing the rest of the body to feel miserable.

The ZBiotics solution is an engineered bacterium, called B. subtilis ZB183, that processes acetaldehyde in the gut to produce acetate before it reaches the liver. The microbe produces an enzyme that reacts chemically with acetaldehyde in the gut. Enzymes are proteins, and cannot be taken directly, since they break down easily in the digestive tract, which prevents them from working.

The company created B. subtilis ZB183 from the Bacillus subtilis, or B. subtilis, bacterium, a versatile and benign microbe found in soil and water, used in many nutritional supplements. ZBiotics employs a genetic engineering process called homologous recombination that replaces a DNA strand in B. subtilis with an identical strand, but with the desired gene added to break down acetaldehyde.

ZBiotics tested B. subtilis ZB183 in lab rats, with the results showing no adverse effects, after repeated daily doses for 90 days. The company submitted a paper with the safety findings to the Journal of Toxicology for publication. Tests for efficacy were also conducted in lab cultures, and ZBiotics says animal tests are in the works. The company notes its probiotic drink is compliant with FDA testing and manufacturing requirements for food products, but because it is not considered a drug, does not need explicit FDA approval.

The new $2.3 million seed round funding for ZBiotics is led by technology venture investment company Oyster Ventures in San Francisco. ZBiotics says it already raised $3.4 million since its founding in 2016. Abbot says in a company statement released through PRNewswire that the financing “will help us expand our product line and our customer base worldwide.”

He adds, “Today’s healthy consumer is interested in taking a more active role in their well-being and are increasingly looking at probiotics as a way to supplement their lifestyle. We are injecting an unprecedented degree of science into this field by developing genetically-engineered solutions that improve health in ways that were previously impossible.”

“ZBiotics has cracked the code on developing a GMO that helps consumers lead healthier lives,” notes Kenneth Ballenegger, co-founder of Oyster Ventures. “Their first product has been a huge success and resonated with adults who want to feel better and be more productive the day after consuming alcohol.”

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Hat tip: Fortune/Term Sheet

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