Sanger spinout gets $10M to work on live bacteriotherapies

Microbiotica is working to take potentially therapeutic mixes of bacteria into preclinical development.

A spinout from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s microbiome research group has raised $10 million to advance live bacteriotherapy programs. The startup, Microbiotica, is helmed by a former GlaxoSmithKline executive and built on years of work to sequence the genomes of the thousands of bacteria that inhabit the guts of humans.

Trevor Lawley’s lab at Sanger Institute has established itself at the forefront of microbiome research on the strength of its role in the Human Pan-Microbe Communities database and growth of bacteria previously thought to be impossible to culture. The initiatives have enabled the lab to build a sizable collection of gut bacteria—including 90 the Human Microbiome Project put on its “most wanted” list in 2012—and humanized models to support the development of drugs based on live bacteria.

Now, Lawley wants to use these resources and expertise to develop live bacteriotherapy programs at Microbiotica. Lawley has taken on the CSO role at the spinout. And Mike Romanos has come on board as CEO. Romanos is the former CEO of Crescendo Biologics, a post he took up in 2011 after a stint helping GSK to establish its antibody operation.

The combination of the Sanger Institute’s science and the leadership team in place to advance it proved compelling enough to prompt IP Group and Cambridge Innovation Capital to commit approximately $5 million each to the startup. Microbiotica plans to use the cash to set up digs at the Wellcome Genome Campus near Cambridge, U.K., from which it will work to take multiple live bacteriotherapy programs into development.

Microbiotica’s near-term focus is on getting potentially therapeutic mixes of bacteria identified by Lawley’s lab into preclinical development. In parallel, Microbiotica will tap into resources accrued by the Sanger Institute to understand the microbiomes of healthy and diseased people. The work is expected to identify links between bacteria and disease, ways to stratify patients and therapeutic candidates.

“By exploring the fundamentals of gut flora distribution and genetics, Microbiotica has an opportunity to take a lead in understanding how the microbiome can be used to not only develop new therapeutics for a range of diseases, but also how to stratify patients according to their microbial profile, identify links with disease and exploit its full potential for human healthcare,” Sam Williams, head of biotech at IP Group, said in a statement.