Startups, Venture

Flagship unveils gut-focused upstart Kintai, with former GSK exec as chief

Prolific venture group Flagship Pioneering has spawned a fresh biopharma player with a former big pharma exec at the helm: Kintai Therapeutics. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company is focusing on the gut — but it is not limiting itself to microbiota and looking instead at the interplay between microbes, immune cells, and neurons in the region, to harness a new class of therapeutics.

David Berry

“The gut—which is home to trillions of bacteria, 70% of our immune cells, and 500 million neurons—is truly a command center, transmitting constant messages and signals throughout the body that affect our propensity for disease,” said David Berry, general partner at Flagship Pioneering and co-founder of Kintai Therapeutics in a statement.

The gut immune system, the enteric nervous system and the microbiome can be looked at in isolation, but it makes sense to approach them in an integrated way using computational biology and deep learning algorithms to understand what’s really going on at the interface between the external world (the gut microbiome) and immune cells, said Kintai chief Paul-Peter Tak in an interview with Endpoints News.

Using mapping technology, since its founding in 2016, Kintai has identified 44,000 new genes and hundreds of new metabolites, and developed a fecund pipeline of at least 10 experimental drugs for different conditions, Tak said.

The nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract (the enteric nervous system) has five times as many nerve cells as the human spinal cord, and 80% of our immune cells spend time in our gut, according to Kintai.

By targeting the gut, “we are able to target these (immune) cells and thereby have a distant, remote anti-inflammatory effect…thereby having an effect on neurological diseases in the brain without even having to develop molecules that penetrate the blood-brain barrier. We are able replicate the effects of the gut microbiome with discrete molecules and that has led to a new class of molecules — precision enteric medicines — which allow us to activate a certain pathway in specific parts of the gut,” the former GSK chief immunology officer said. 

Tak expects to begin human studies with its two lead programs — metabolic syndrome and ulcerative colitis — next year, and anticipates starting clinical studies with five programs within two years. In the coming years, the company intends to prioritize the fields of oncology and neurology, Tak added.

For some of the company’s programs such as metabolic syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, it’s quite likely that Kintai will eventually seek a big pharmaceutical partner to hasten the pace of drug development, he said.

Kintai — which gets its name from a historical wooden arch bridge, in the city of Iwakuni, Japan — currently has about 60 employees.

Image Source: Paul-Peter Tak. GSK

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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