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Axial Biotherapeutics launches with neuroscience focus

New microbiome firm connects gut microbes with autism and Parkinson’s disease

by Ann M. Thayer
December 1, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 48

Axial Biotherapeutics is the latest microbiome firm to emerge. Private and venture capital investors, including Longwood Fund and Domain Associates, have put an initial $19 million into the California start-up.

Axial is based on the work of California Institute of Technology professor Sarkis Mazmanian. In mouse models, his lab has shown a connection between neurological disorders and interventions in the gut microbiome. Axial intends to expand on these discoveries to find pathways and mechanisms amenable to biotherapeutic intervention. Initial disease targets include autism and Parkinson’s disease.

Technology that Axial has licensed from Caltech includes Mazmanian’s work involving Bacteroides fragiles. Raising the level of these gut bacteria can reduce autism-like behavior in engineered mice.

Mazmanian and collaborators also propose a link in Parkinson’s (Cell 2016, DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.11.018). In mouse models again, they found that bacteria from Parkinson’s patients enhanced hallmarks of the condition. They also identified microbial metabolites that induce symptoms.

Such microbes may be useful disease biomarkers, therapeutic targets, or treatments. “Product candidates could be quite diverse depending on the indication, what type of corrections to the microbiome are required, and the regulatory strategy that we choose,” CEO and cofounder David H. Donabedian says.

Axial is benefiting from surging interest in microbiome R&D. In 2016, investors and drug firms have funded start-ups including Enterome, Second Genome, and Seres Therapeutics. In May, the White House launched a $520 million National Microbiome Initiative, and The Kavli Foundation unveiled its $1 million Microbiome Ideas Challenge.

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