Gut check: Newest microbiome startup concentrates on autism, Parkinson’s disease

Sarkis Mazmanian

Sarkis Mazmanian

What kind of relationship exists between the gut microbiome and diseases of the brain? A new startup called Axial Biotherapeutics has set out to find some answers, with $19.15 million in venture backing.

Caltech professor Sarkis Mazmanian has provided much of the inspiration for the biotech. His lab has published research on animal studies that established a link between the population of tiny microbes in your body and the course of autism spectrum disorders. And the biotech plans to take that work into the clinic in search of new drugs that can treat some terrible, and difficult-to-treat, diseases.

Longwood Fund and Domain Associates led the round, with additional cash coming from a syndicate that includes Kairos Ventures, Heritage Medical Systems and a group of high net worth individuals based in Southern California.

David H. Donabedian, Axial

David H. Donabedian, Axial

“There is mounting evidence that the gut microbiome is implicated in brain development and neurological health and we believe we are at the forefront of generating new avenues for microbiome-targeted therapeutic interventions in multiple neurological diseases and disorders, including ASD and Parkinson’s Disease,” says David H. Donabedian, a Longwood partner that it now CEO of Axial.

The microbiome has been a new territory for company creation in the past couple of years, though it’s also begun to experience some setbacks.

The Cambridge, MA-based Seres is one of several microbiome players to set up shop in the Boston biotech scene, where Axial is sinking new roots. Not far from their base you can also find Vedanta and Synlogic, while out in San Francisco, Second Genome is promising to make its own microbial waves. And in New York Kallyope is also probing the gut-brain axis.

Seres is among the first to start gathering human data, and it had the first exposure to a failure has shaken the faith in the sector. Investors, though, see this as a new way to grow up a creative crop of new drugs. And Axial is hoping to be in that mix.

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