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Collapsed Microbiome Biotech Sells Off Assets

Microbiome illustration

(Darryl Leja, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH. Flickr:

11 Oct. 2023. A developer of therapies addressing the body’s microbe communities is selling off key assets to another biotechnology company, after problems developed with its lead program. Kanvas Biosciences in Princeton, New Jersey is acquiring two of Federation Bio’s microbiome therapy candidates, as well as Federation’s microbial library and other intellectual property.

Federation Bio was a biotechnology company in South San Francisco developing treatments for disorders linked to the microbiome, communities of bacteria in the gut and elsewhere. The microbiome is generating more interest as a target for diseases of the gut, but also conditions in other parts of the body. The company, whose web site is no longer active, said it discovers and isolates collections of naturally occurring bacterial strains for long-term treatments that supplement existing microbes in the body. Federation Bio was based on research by its scientific founders Michael Fishback, professor of biomedical engineering and microbiology, and Dylan Dodd, professor of pathology, both at Stanford University.

Science & Enterprise reported on the company’s first venture round in Oct. 2020 raising $50 million, and most recently a collaboration between the company and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston in Feb. 2023, studying links between the gut microbiome and effectiveness of cancer immunotherapies, particularly immune checkpoint inhibitors. The company’s lead product, code-named FB-001, was a treatment for hyperoxaluria, a kidney disorder from excessive oxalate in urine that can lead to kidney stones and damage to the kidney. Federation Bio said FB-001 was an oral drug made with 148 bacterial strains from healthy donors.

In Dec. 2022, Federation Bio announced the start of an early-stage clinical trial among healthy volunteers, but by June 2023, problems began developing in the company that required layoffs, as reported by Fierce Biotech. Today, Kanvas Biosciences says it’s acquiring several of Federation Bio’s current programs, facilities, and intellectual property. Financial terms of the agreement are not disclosed.

Mapping and imaging of microbial communities

Kanvas Biosciences is a three year-old biotechnology company with a process for detailed mapping and imaging of microbial communities. This spatial mapping technology, as described in the journal Nature in Dec. 2020, analyzes single-cell images to reveal locations and identities of bacteria and other microbes in the gut, aided by machine-learning algorithms. Those techniques, studied in the biomedical engineering lab of Iwijn De Vlaminck at Cornell University, are the basis of Kanvas Biosciences’ process. Hao Shi and Philip Burnham, chief technology officer and chief scientist respectively of Kanvas Biosciences, are alumni of that Cornell lab.

In their agreement, Kanvas Biosciences is acquiring Federated Bio’s work in cancer immunotherapy, and inheriting the company’s collaboration with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center begun in February. That collaboration is expected to lead to development and manufacturing of fecal transplants with synthetic microbes to help more cancer patients become responsive to immunotherapies. Kanvas is also gaining work begun by Federated Bio on treatments for inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, Kanvas receives Federation Bio’s microbial cell libraries and banking facilities in South San Francisco, and other intellectual property assets.

“This acquisition,” says Kanvas Biosciences CEO Matthew Cheng in a company statement released through BusinessWire, “allows us to manufacture and clinically investigate complex microbial consortia much faster than previously envisioned.”  Cheng co-founded Kanvas Biosciences with Hao Shi in early 2021.

“Our work with Federation Bio demonstrated our unique ability to engineer complex, synthetic microbial consortia,” notes Jennifer Wargo, professor of genomic medicine and surgical oncology at M.D. Anderson. Wargo adds, “This agreement allows us to accelerate an already productive collaboration, and we hope it will enable us to more quickly develop and manufacture more microbiome-based therapies for our patients.”

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