Competition is heating up in the microbiome niche as UK-based Microbiotica raised €60M (£50M) in a Series B round to advance two candidates designed to treat cancer and ulcerative colitis.
Microbiotica’s financing sets a record in Europe for microbiome specialist biotechs. The round was co-led by Sweden’s Flerie Invest and China-based Tencent, and was supported by existing investors including the French investment firm Seventure Partners.
The fundraising will support phase Ib clinical trials of two therapeutics consisting of live bacteria administered orally: one to treat ulcerative colitis and the other meant to stimulate the immune system to attack cancer.
Microbiotica uses microbial cultures and bioinformatics to find links between the presence of different strains of gut bacteria and the outcomes of clinical trials. Microbiotica is also working with Roche’s Genentech to explore the microbiome’s potential in tackling inflammatory bowel disease.
“We first identify the bacteria clinically linked to drug response, then deconvolute the mechanism,” said Microbiotica’s CEO Mike Romanos. He added that the bacteria in Microbiotica’s cancer candidate stimulate key immune cells to fight tumors.
Interest in microbiome-based medicine is near “an inflection point” where we may soon start seeing bigger investments, said Isabelle de Cremoux, CEO and Managing Partner at Seventure Partners, which participated in Microbiotica’s fundraising.
There is increasing competition between US and European companies, de Cremoux adds; US-based Seres Therapeutics and Finch Therapeutics, as well as Switzerland’s Ferring Pharmaceuticals are in advanced trials of microbiome-based therapeutics for severe gastrointestinal infections by the pathogen Clostridium difficile. In France, MaaT Pharma is developing a therapy for graft-vs-host disease, an immunological complication of bone marrow transplantations.
There are several different approaches to developing therapeutic candidates based on the microbiome, such as isolating different strains of beneficial bacteria or attempting to repair the entire gut ecosystem with multi-strain therapeutic candidates. There are important distinctions between the types of microorganisms used as well.
“Most US microbiome-based therapeutics are natural or [genetically modified] living bacterial products while trends in Europe also include other microorganisms such as fungi, viruses, and yeast,” said de Cremoux. Other microbiome-based modalities in development in Europe include fecal microbiota transplants, small molecules, antibodies, and peptides.
Many of the advanced microbiome treatment candidates in the pipeline are administered orally and their immediate target is the microbiome of the gut. However, there are also efforts to target microorganisms on the skin, such as GSK’s collaboration with Eligo Biosciences last year.
Skin products are often licensed as cosmetics, and this can allow microbiome-based skin treatments to reach the market without the lengthy process of approving therapeutics required by the EMA. In early March 2022, the Belgian biotech S-Biomedic launched its own probiotic acne cream in Europe.
Acne treatments typically involve applying antibiotics — which can lead to drug resistance — or hormonal therapy, which can produce side effects such as headaches and soreness. The use of acne treatments that regulate skin bacteria is an approach that is gaining momentum.
“The whole understanding of the microbiome and especially the skin microbiome emerged just recently, when next-generation sequencing became more available and cost-effective,” S-Biomedic’s CEO, Veronika Oudova, told me.
“Already today we see a strong consideration for ‘microbiome-friendliness’ in the skincare industry, which is at the moment at a rather basic level,” she added. “But with growing knowledge, I believe that very soon the aspect of the microbiome will become a standard part of dermatology as well.”
Cover image via Elena Resko