11/30/2016 6:06:31 AM
November 30, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
BOSTON – Startup Axial Biotherapeutics launched this week with a mission to use the gut microbiome to help treat diseases and disorders of the central nervous system. Axial’s launch was backed by a funding round of $19.15 million in Series A financing.
Axial becomes the latest in a number of companies based in the Boston area with a focus on the microbiome. Other companies include Seres Therapeutics (MCRB) and Evelo BioSciences. Merck (MRK) has also begun to delve into microbiome research with the opening of a 50,000 square-foot complex.
The microbiome is the collection of trillions of microbes that live in and on the human body. In recent years, scientists have found that the microbiome plays a crucial role in many areas of human biology and disease. Biological therapy uses natural or artificial substances that mimic or block natural cell responses to kill, control or change the behavior of cancer cells.
However, microbiome research took a hit earlier this summer after Seres Therapeutics reported its Phase II C. diff trial failed to meet its efficacy endpoints of reducing recurrence of the disorder. Seres is developing therapies targeting the human microbiome, the bacteria residing in the human gastro-intestinal track, with a particular focus on C diff., ulcerative colitis, as well as some work on immunology and metabolic diseases. Its lead therapy, SER-109, which earned it a breakthrough therapy designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, was unable to statistically outperform placebo.
Despite the Seres setback, leadership at Axial is confident microbiome therapies will benefit CNS patients who have few treatment options.
“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,” David Donabedian, cofounder and chief executive officer of Axial said in a statement. Donabedian previously held leadership roles at AbbVie (ABBV) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
Axial’s therapies are based on the work of its scientific founder, Sarkis Mazmanian, the Louis & Nelly Soux Professor of Microbiology, Division of Biology & Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Mazmanian was among the first to demonstrate disease modifying effects in mouse models of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) via novel and proprietary microbiome interventions, Axial said in a statement. Axial will leverage those findings to build a microbiome discovery platform targeting the gut-brain axis which provides the opportunity to generate a diverse pipeline of new therapies for patients with neurological diseases and disorders, including ASD and Parkinson’s disease.
Mazmanian, also a cofounder of Axial, said by interrogating the biological link between the gut microbiome and the brain, they have discovered various mechanisms that “can be leveraged to develop novel treatment options for vastly underserved diseases.”
The financing round was led by Longwood Fund and Domain Associates. Also participating in the financing were Kairos Ventures, Heritage Medical Systems and a group of high net worth individuals based in Southern California, the company said in a statement.
In addition to serving as CEO, Donabedian will also have a seat on the company board of directors. Additional board members include, James Blair, a partner at Domain Associates; Michelle Dipp, a partner at Longwood Fund; and Mazmanian.
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