Apart from a few pitfalls, such as Seres Therapeutics’ seminal effort into developing a “crapsule” — the emerging field aiming to harness insights gained from gut microbiota to develop drugs has attracted a bucket of biobucks and even inspired the takeover of a key player, Rebiotix. The enthusiasm persists, with upstart Vedanta Biosciences attracting an additional $18.5 million in its Series C round.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company, which has already joined forces with J&J’s $JNJ Janssen unit and Bristol-Myers Squibb $BMY, said it had raised $27 million in December, from investors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bristol-Myers, Rock Springs Capital, Invesco Asset Management, Seventure Partners, and PureTech Health. Its lead drug, VE303, is currently being evaluated in a mid-stage study in recurrent C. difficile infection.
The concept of fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) — replenishing a patient’s gut with bacteria from a healthy feces — was originally documented in China, and has been used in the United States since the 1950s with little regulatory scrutiny. About six years ago, the FDA sanctioned the use of FMT as a last resort measure for recurrent C. diff, but the agency continues to consider it an investigational treatment. Globally, hundreds of trials are now underway testing the potential of FMT for patients suffering from various illnesses, from autism to obesity. Microbiome-based therapeutics today is a fertile field for drug developers targeting a wide variety of indications using different therapeutic modalities, some of which are designed to sidestep the “ick” factor associated with traditional stool transfer.
Unlike rivals such as Seres and Rebiotix who are developing pills in an effort to treat disease by harnessing gut microbes found in healthy feces, Vedanta is developing a consortium of bacteria manufactured from pure, clonal cell banks that the biotech hopes can induce a range of immune responses.
The new capital — which comes from JSR Corporation, Shumway Capital, SymBiosis LLC, and Partners Investment — will be used to finance the development of four of the company’s experimental drugs, including a Phase I/II study of VE416 in food allergy, a Phase Ib/II study of VE800 and Bristol-Myer’s Opdivo in advanced or metastatic cancers, and the Phase II study of VE303 in recurrent C. diff, which were created out of Vedanta’s cluster of bacterial strains.
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