NIH Researcher Launches LUCA Biologics, a Company Dedicated to Microbiome Diseases and Women's Health


LUCA Biologics has launched in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company will focus on women’s health, starting with urinary tract infections (UTI). LUCA is co-founded by Jacques Ravel, a researcher in the vaginal microbiome division of the National Institute of Health (NIH)’s Human Microbiome Project. Ravel will act as the company’s chief scientist.

“There is an urgent need for innovation in women’s health,” Ravel stated. “While our research started with metagenomic sequencing to generate large comparative data sets, we can now translate our findings into safe and effective treatments for widespread conditions that stigmatize and devastate millions of women each year.”

LUCA starts out with a strain bank and gene catalog developed over 15 years from various research sites, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the NIH. LUCA also has already build a metagenomic and metatranscriptomic platform it will use to identify and validate microbial strains that can modulate the vaginal and urogenital microbiome.

At this time, LUCA’s pipeline includes therapies for UTI, preterm birth (PTB) and bacterial vaginosis (BV).

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Research into the microbiome, the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in the human body, is becoming a larger and larger force in the development of therapeutics, and not just gastrointestinal diseases, but psychiatric and central nervous system disorders. For example, researchers with the Weizmann Institute of Science recently published work on mice with an ALS-like disease. They found the course of the disease slowed after the mice received specific strains of gut microbes or substances that were secreted by the microbes. This suggests the microbiome may play a regulatory role in ALS patients.

In the case of LUCA Biologics, it’s not a leap to think that the microbiome would have an effect on urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis. But preterm birth seems like there would be less of a connection.

But Ravel’s research has indicated that vaginal bacteria are associated with the “host response” related to fertility or time of birth. A recent study published in Nature Communications by Ravel showed that women with high levels of a specific type of bacteria were at a lower risk of premature birth, while women with low levels of that same bacteria were at high risk of premature birth.

“We have an unparalleled opportunity to make a true impact in women’s health and translate breakthroughs in microbiome science into innovative therapeutics,” stated Luba Greenwood, LUCA co-founder and board member. “We are targeting areas of high unmet medical needs to revolutionize treatment for often poorly treated conditions that affect millions of women across the world.”

LUCA came out of Seed Health, a microbial sciences accelerator. LUCA is the first biotech company to emerge from Seed Health. Seed Health has what it calls a foundry model, where it partners with leading scientists to provide capital investment, consulting on regulatory and intellectual property issues, biofermentation scale-up, and promotes clinical trials through academic partnerships.

LUCA already plans clinical trials to begin in the fall, led by faculty at Harvard Medical School and conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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