Economic Development, Startups, Venture

Is NYC a biotech hub? Gut-brain startup Kallyope, equipped with $66M in new money, says yes

In a win for New York City’s hopeful biotech scene, Columbia University spinout Kallyope has nailed down a $66 million financing round with plans of growing the startup’s staff in NYC’s life science core.

The company got the Series B cash from many of the same investors that contributed to their A round, including Lux Capital, The Column Group, and Illumina Ventures, among others.

Nancy Thornberry

Kallyope is led by CEO Nancy Thornberry, a longtime Merck veteran who joined the company in 2015 when there was only six people on staff. Today, the company employs 44 and plans to grow its staff to 60 by the end of this year.

The company is trying to map out the communication lines between the gut and the brain. They call this bi-directional convo the “gut-brain axis,” and it’s made up of hormonal and neural circuits. The field is still full of mysteries, Thornberry tells me, but researchers do know the system modulates physiology and behavior. Defects in the gut-brain circuits have been linked to metabolic and gastrointestinal diseases, as well as CNS disorders like autism and Parkinson’s.

“There really has not been a comprehensive understanding of the bi-directional communication between the gut and the brain,” Thornberry said. “To the best of my knowledge, we’re the first to actually have a goal of mapping gut-brain circuits and targeting them with small molecules that can become therapeutics.”

The company has “several” preclinical programs underway, with a focus on metabolism and CNS disorders to start. Thornberry was mum on the details but indicated this recent Series B should take some of these programs to the clinic.

The startup has set up shop at the Alexandria Center for Life Sciences on the East Side of Manhattan (a relatively new biotech hub), right alongside big players like Eli Lilly, Roche, and Nestle Skin Health.

Thornberry says the city has seen a boost of life science activity in recent years, thanks to efforts made by the state and city to incentivize biotech to plant roots in New York. To put that thought in perspective, it’s important to note that Thornberry is on the advisory council for a $500 million economic development effort to establish NYC as a life science hub. And she’s rather committed to building up the city’s life science brand.

“NYC has proven to be an outstanding place to recruit for biotech,” Thornberry tells me. “The scene is just beginning to grow here, and so there’s an untapped pool of talent of scientists from academia who are interested in working in biotech. There’s also a number of individuals wanting to make transition from pharma to biotech who want to live here in New York.”

Still, Thornberry admits the city has had a historical problem with finding space for biotech.

“But the mayor and the state are making a big commitment to solve that problem,” she says. “That’s reflected by a number of financial incentives the city and state provided.”

NYC’s economic development group tells me it’s posted a “wanted ad” for an organization or joint venture to develop and operate a life science R&D campus in the city. New York is putting up $100 million in city capital and city-owned land to spur the project, which has been coined “LifeSci NYC Hub,” the EDC says.

Image: New York City. Shutterstock

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

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