Biotech start-up aims to unlock potential of the gut-brain axis


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“The gut is the organ for modulating satiety and metabolism," says CEO Nancy Thornberry. Image: iStockPhoto
“The gut is the organ for modulating satiety and metabolism," says CEO Nancy Thornberry. Image: iStockPhoto

Related tags Medicine

Kallyope Inc. is aiming to harness the potential of the gut-brain axis to develop consumer products and transformational therapeutics that improve human health and nutrition.

The biotech company announced $44 million of Series A financing last week, and boasts numerous members of the national academies, two Lasker Award winners, and three Nobel laureates among its founders and scientific advisory board.

“The gut-brain axis functions as a two-way information highway between the gut and the brain, providing an unprecedented opportunity to access and influence brain centers involved in a variety of fundamental human processes,” ​said Dr Tom Maniatis, co-founder of Kallyope and a professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“Kallyope has put together an exciting, state-of-the-art program to understand how the gut communicates with other organs and our brains about our physiological, metabolic and internal state.”

‘Not a microbiome company’

Nancy Thornberry, CEO of Kallyope, told us: “We’re not a microbiome company. The platform we’re building will be optimally suited to understand what is happening at a mechanistic or molecular level.”

Kallyope will leverage cutting-edge technologies including sequencing, genetics, circuit mapping, neural imaging and bioinformatics. By integrating and applying complementary tools and approaches to the understanding of gut-brain biology, the company aims to develop transformational therapeutics and consumer products that improve human health and nutrition.

The company will not be working directly with probiotics or prebiotics, said Thornberry, but the focus is on proteins and compounds that modulate signaling.

“Thereapeutics are an obvious approach with metabolic disorders like obesity,”​ she said. “The gut is the organ for modulating satiety and metabolism.”

The interest in satiety and weight management is an obvious place for the company to focus initially because satiety pathways and the hormones are well-established, said Thornberry, a 30 year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry, with over three decades in research at Merck.

“We are also very intrigued by the broader role of the microbiome in neurological health, like cognition, anxiety and depression.”


Kallyope’s Scientific Advisory Board Members:

Michael Brown, MD, Nobel laureate
Joseph Goldstein, MD, Nobel laureate
Richard Scheller, PhD, Lasker Award

Kallyope’s Board Members:

Josh Wolfe, Lux Capital
Terry McGuire, Polaris Partners
Tim Kutzkey, PhD, The Column Group
Nancy Thornberry, CEO
Tom Maniatis, PhD

The new company was founded by Charles Zuker, PhD, Tom Maniatis, PhD, and Richard Axel, MD and is headquartered at the Alexandria Center for Life Science in New York City.

Kallyope is currently eight people and Thornberry expects this to triple in 2016, and then grow beyond that. The company has already drawn scientific and analytic talent from institutions like Columbia, Google and Bloomberg.

“We are enormously excited to be developing new ways of influencing gut-brain circuits to improve human health,”​ said Thornberry. “Kallyope's cross-disciplinary approach and technology platform have the potential to translate gut-brain biology into a range of new therapeutic and nutritional programs. Such an approach would not have been possible just a few years ago.”


Kallyope's founding investors include Lux Capital, Polaris Partners and The Column Group. Other notable investors include Illumina, Inc., Tony Evnin, Ph.D. and Alexandria Venture Investments.

“What Kallyope is doing represents a hugely exciting venture into the untapped therapeutic and nutritional potential of the gut-brain axis, which no other biotech has unlocked and translated. We believe that Kallyope is pioneering an area of science that will fundamentally change how drugs and nutritional products are made, targeted, and administered,”​ said Josh Wolfe, Kallyope board member and managing partner of Lux Capital.


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