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Biotechs Explore Gut-Brain Axis for Mental Health

Microbiome graphic

(Tony Webster, Flickr)

13 July 2022. Two biotechnology companies are advancing basic research findings connecting gut microbes with the brain to develop new therapies for neurological disorders. Seed Health Inc. in Venice, California and Axial Therapeutics Inc. in Woburn, Massachusetts are collaborating on new probiotics and treatments for common conditions such as anxiety and depression, based on research from the lab of microbiologist Sarkis Mazmanian at California Institute of Technology.

Mazmanian and colleagues at CalTech study molecular processes of the microbiome, communities of bacteria in the human gut, and their effects on health, covering a wide range of conditions linked to the immune system and extending into central nervous system. Research in the Mazmanian lab often crosses traditional disciplines, covering genomics, microbiology, immunology, and neuroscience. As reported by Science & Enterprise in Nov. 2016, Mazmanian is a scientific founder of Axial Therapeutics that licenses his work to develop therapies for central nervous system conditions connected to the microbiome.

Axial Therapeutics designs therapies for central nervous system disorders and cancer connected through a bi-directional pathway to the gut microbiome. The company says it focuses on key components of the nervous system, such as the vagus nerve that links to a number of major bodily functions, neurons extending along the digestive tract, and the immune system, all of which can be influenced by gut microbe activity. Axial’s lead product, code-named AB-2004, is a small-molecule drug to treat irritability associated with autism spectrum disorder, now in a mid-stage clinical trial. Another program in preclinical development, is a therapy for Parkinson’s disease.

Gut bacteria shown to reduce stress hormone

Seed Health is a division of Seed Inc. that develops probiotics and therapies for medical, environmental, and consumer markets. The company says its live microbial therapies are designed to work in the gut, and treat diseases of the gastrointestinal, metabolic, skin, and nervous systems. Luca Biologics, a subsidiary of Seed Health, addresses vaginal microbial health.

Axial Therapeutics and Seed Health are collaborating on designing probiotics and therapies targeting gut microbes that influence neurons in the brain affecting anxiety, depression, and responses to stress. In a paper in the journal Nature published last year, for example, Mazmanian and colleagues identified gut bacteria in lab mice that reduce the stress hormone corticosterone, produced in the hypothalamus region of the brain, and adrenal and pituitary glands. The companies plan to partner on discovery, validation, clinical development, fermentation, production scale-up, and commercialization of new products from the alliance. Division of those tasks between the companies, as well as financial and intellectual property terms of the agreement, were not disclosed.

“A growing body of research is advancing understanding of the gut-brain axis,” says Mazmanian in an Axial Therapeutics statement, “and revealing the potential for microbial innovations to maintain or even improve mental well-being. The collaboration between Seed Health and Axial Therapeutics will translate this breakthrough research into novel probiotics and living medicines for a range of cognitive and neuropsychiatric outcomes.”

“Existing treatments do not consider nor target the underlying role of the gut microbiome,” adds Seed Health Co-CEO Ara Katz. “This disruptive approach unlocks a promising future for the millions who experience and suffer from a range of mental health conditions and disorders.”

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