A new biotech company aims to get into your brain — through your gut.
Kallyope, which launched Wednesday with $44 million in financing, seeks to explore the interaction between the brain and the trillions of microbes in the gut. In particular, it’s looking for molecules released by the microbiome that might affect human behavior and that could be developed into medications.
“Instead of trying to get to the brain through the brain, you can get to the brain through the gut,” said Josh Wolfe, founding director of New York-based Kallyope and a partner at the venture capital firm that led its financing.
Kallyope is one of the first companies focusing specifically on gut-brain interaction, which has become a hot topic of research in the past few years. Its funding is significantly larger than the average early-stage biotech deals in the third quarter of 2015, according to Greg Vlahos, a life science partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Interactions between our brains and our guts affect all sorts of behaviors, from sleep to satiety, said Tom Maniatis, a biochemist at Columbia University’s medical school and one of the company’s scientific cofounders. Those interactions might lead to therapies, he said: “We all are very serious drug hunters.”
Most research on gut-brain interactions has occurred in animals, scientists said. For example, scientists have made rodents more (or less) adventurous by transplanting gut bacteria between one mouse and another. But studies in humans are more complicated, and less data is available.
Kallyope Chief Executive Nancy Thornberry, a longtime researcher and executive at Merck, declined to give details of the company’s research plan beyond saying the startup will look closely at the role of the microbiome in behavioral disorders.
Dr. Premysl Bercik, a gastroenterologist at McMaster University in Ontario, said he welcomes the industry interest in the field. But the information that Kallyope has publicly released is so vague, he said, that “it’s difficult to speculate on what this company is really focusing on.”
The government has also taken an interest in the gut-brain axis. Last September, the National Institutes of Health announced $1 million in grants would be available to researchers investigating the relationship between microbes in the gut and mental disorders.