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That gut feeling is not just your imagination!!


Gut feeling. Gut instinct. Tough guts. Gut response. Gutless wonder. Gut-wrenching.

Interesting that our language reveals science, centuries in advance. 

A few years ago, I was researching what influences behavior, so that people could make lasting lifestyle changes for better health, as well as be better investors in the marketplace. There was new research emerging that revealed depression, motivation, focus, and anxiety originate in the gut, rather than the brain. This connection is referred to as “the gut-brain axis.” [source: The Mind-Gut Connection]

When the human genome project completed in April of 2003, scientists gained access to the complete genetic blueprint for a human. But they also embarked on building a genetic blueprint for non-human microorganisms, referred to as the microbiome, that live inside and on the human body that keep us healthy or make us sick. It used to be that we thought that bacteria were organisms to avoid. But it turns out 100 trillion little critters make the difference between sickness and health. They even influence personality. 

So how do you patent the microbiome? What kind of technology can engineer bacteria to improve health outcomes? Can microbiome interventions reverse genetic expression? How does this become an investment opportunity? 

Gut microorganisms can be lethal outside of the gut, causing E coli, peritonitis, SIBO, and other infections when populations of various gut bacteria overpopulate the gut or get outside the gut. At the same time, in their proper place, behind a thin protective barrier, about 100 trillion bacteria divided between 300 to 500 different bacterial families, with nearly 2 million genes that are as unique as we are from each other, contributes to mental health, resistance to disease, control our weight and blood glucose and influence human genetic expression. 

Changing the balance of those microorganisms could transform how we do health. 

 

Microbiome basics

Think of the beneficial bacteria as probiotics. We hear yogurt and supplement peddlers promote the benefits of probiotics. But with around 500 different probiotic families, which bacteria influence which solution?

Then there’s prebiotics. Back in my first nutrition classes (when I was thinking about being a dietician a decade or two ago), I was taught that fiber was essentially nutritionally void, so it acted like a broom to move food through the intestinal tract. And you can imagine that even though the science at the time was woefully short of what we now know, it still made sense on how fiber could prevent colon cancer. I mean – if food just sits there rotting in the gut, there’s a problem!

But back to prebiotics. This is fiber. And while we can’t utilize or derive nourishment from fiber directly, the bacteria in our gut uses fiber to survive. And since there’s close to 500 families of bacteria with billions of individual bacteria in each family, one fiber does not fit all. That’s why psyllium husk is not an end-all solution. You need your spinach, kale, beets, carrots, legumes, and all sorts of varieties of plants. 

Then there’s phytobiotics.  Phytobiotics are enzymes and extracts that stimulate appetite, that help bacteria break down the fibers to digest them. In a healthy gut, phytobiotics have an antimicrobial effect on detrimental bacteria, so that health-supporting bacteria can thrive. 

Think of your gut like a garden. The bacteria or probiotics are the seeds that make good things grow. The prebiotics are the nutrients in the soil that nourish those seeds. And the phytobiotics are the elements in the soil that convert the food into fuel that bacteria can use while keeping pests, molds and fungi that harm the seeds from flourishing in your garden. . 

Why is this important for investors to understand? 

First of all, because managing emotions like fear and greed could be said to start in the gut, having an unbalanced microbiome could actually be the cause of emotion-driven decisions in your investing account. Fear, anxiety, insomnia, and craving french fries and donuts instead of that kale-salad blend with lean chicken, or the chickpea protein smoothie with spinach, berries and coconut milk starts in your gut!

Second –  in most tech, medical, and health startups there’s a lot of lingo to sort through. The vocabulary alone can blur the eyes pretty quick! Reading scientific journals is not normally accessible or understandable to the average person. It’s not discussed on the news very often. So it’s easy to get dazzled by bull that we might think is brilliant, and be quickly deceived on minimum viable product (MVP). 

Finally – your first investment should be your own and your family’s health so that you can enjoy the success you experience as an investor. 

From straight botanicals, to classes of drugs to modulate the human microbiome, to outpatient procedures involving bacterial transplants to fight antibiotic resistant infections like C-diff (clostridiodes difficile) that can quickly turn deadly if an intervention fails to work, pharmaceutical startups are looking to synthesize nature. Commercializing microbiome therapies is a crazy data-driven science, with families of bacterias, and strains within those families creating millions of different variables for therapeutic interventions 

It’s a crazy data-driven science, in a race for patents that optimize what nature already provides, and also matching therapies to patient diagnoses. 

There are several areas of focus in microbiome startups, which distill down into therapeutics, diagnostics, and technological applications. 

Here are just a few of the startups leveraging microbiome science to make an impact on how we treat and prevent disease.

 

Ginkgo Bioworks

Ginkgo Bioworks was built on the question of what if they could grow everything with the premise that they can program cells like we program computers. But basically they’re re-engineering yeast to act as tiny organic factories to make products more cheaply and efficiently than traditional methods. 

Ginkgo focuses on five areas of research. Strain improvement, enzyme discovery, new product development, biosecurity and cellular engineering for a wide range of industrial and pharmaceutical applications. [source: Ginkgo bioworks]

Founded by Jason Kelly, Reshma Shetty, Barry Canton, Austin Che and Tom Knight, who all met at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 2000s. In fact, Tom Knight was the lead founder and an MIT professor, beginning his attendance to MIT as a non-matriculated student from age 14 to 18 to take classes in computer programming and organic chemistry during high school. 

Ginkgo has raised almost $800 Million with it’s most recent round of funding in May of 2020. Top investors include Viking Global Investors, T Rowe Price, Illumina, General Atlantic and Bill Gates. 

 

SNIPR Biome

SNIPR Biome is addressing the overuse of antibiotics with the development of CRISPR-based medicines to precision-target problem bacteria without harming beneficial bacteria. The problem with antibiotics is that they kill bacteria indiscriminately. It’s like taking a carpet-bomb to the gut that kills the bad guys AND vital beneficial bacteria instead of snipers to take out the bad guys and leave the health-giving bacteria to thrive. Being able to target the specific DNA sequence signatures of the problem bacteria leaves the rest of the patient’s microbial community intact. 

This is particularly impactful in the functioning of a healthy immune system. CRISPR based medicines hold the promise to offer very safe medications because of this specificity. [source: SniprBiome]

A few weeks ago, Angel Insights sent a story on CRISPR technology that explained the basics of the science in the context of the human genetic makeup of approximately 25,000 genes. But this company has to function with a much larger genetic database with approximately 2 million genes. 

While SNIPR Biome is based in Denmark, the company holds 18 US patents so far. The company has raised $60.2 Million in 2 rounds of funding from US Investor CARB-X (based out of Boston, Massachusetts), and European investors like Lundbeckfonden Ventures, Life Sciences Partners, Wellington Partners and North-East Family Office. [source: Crunchbase]

 

Vedanta Biosciences

Merging the fields of immunology and microbiome science, Vedanta pioneered the study and discovery of the symbiosis between gut bacteria and human health. As early as 1985, cofounder Dan Littman led efforts to identify and clone of specific molecules on the surface of T cells that are crucial to immune recognition and response. 

Vedanta’s approach is to design medicines based on this symbiotic relationship between the microbiome and human health in order to treat disease. [source: Vedanta]

Vedanta has raised $286.6 Million with its most recent round announced in July of 2021 with lead investors like Magnetar Capital, Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and CARB-X. [source: Crunchbase]

 

Axial Biotherapeutics

Axial Therapeutics is a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company working on the discovery and development of therapies for central nervous system disorders. Finding a biological link between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Parkinson’s Disease via the gut brain axis, Axial is developing a new class of therapeutics to improve the quality of life for people with central nervous system diseases and disorders. 

With over 1.2 million children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, with no approved therapies for core symptoms, in December, 2020 Axial reported positive topline data from their Phase 1b/2a clinical study. [source: Axial]

Axial has raised $78.7 Million so far, with it’s last round (Series B) in June of 2019. Top investors include Taiho Ventures, Domain Associates, and Longwood Fund. [source: Crunchbase]

 

Bottom Line

What we used to think were brain-based disorders and diseases are now thought to have a gut connection.  Additionally, our immune system is impacted by gut health. 

Investment opportunities follow changes in the way we think of treatment and prevention. Could there be a cure for or ways to reverse brain diseases like Autism, Parkinsons, Alzheimers, or depression and anxiety, in addition to the way we treat digestive tract diseases without compromising our immune systems, memory or stress-response?  If you have a gut feeling about it, explore and investigate thoroughly before investing!