Kallyope Gains $112M to Move “Gut-Brain Axis” Programs to the Clinic

Xconomy New York — 

Kallyope, one of New York’s best funded biotechs, has secured more than $100 million to move two of its programs into the clinic—including its most advanced, an experimental drug designed to treat obesity.

The company was founded in 2015 with $44 million to leverage new learnings about the “gut-brain axis”—pings of communication between our guts and our central nervous system—to make drugs for a range of diseases.

Since then the company has raised $199 million more across two subsequent rounds of funding, including a $112 million Series C financing announced Wednesday, and advanced two programs to the cusp of human testing.

Kallyope (pronounced Kahl-EE-oh-pay) on Wednesday revealed its lead drug is designed to target satiety circuits, or the pathways that play a role in the feeling of fullness, to reduce the weight of patients with obesity.

In 2017-2018, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, there were 42.2 percent US adults with obesity, and 9.2 percent with severe obesity. That’s up from 30.5 percent and 4.7 percent at the turn of the century.

The fresh cash is slated to keep the company humming for three years, providing enough funding to get the obesity treatment into the clinic, as well as the second-most advanced program in its lineup, which targets gut barrier function. That investigational drug could be relevant as a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease and several other gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, the company says, and will enter the clinic “soon after” the obesity program begins human testing.

The company, which is led by CEO Nancy Thornberry (pictured), is not disclosing the specific targets its drugs are designed to hit, but says that its focus is on neural and hormonal circuits, including novel vagal circuits.

In addition to moving the obesity and GI drugs into human tests, the Series C money is also slated to fund additional work on Kallyope’s broader portfolio, which it says has other oral small molecule drugs designed to selectively target the gut to treat a “wide array” of diseases, including central nervous system disorders and diseases of neuroimmunology and inflammation in addition to metabolic and GI indications.

Other biotechs are also working to take advantage of gut-brain communications to treat disease. Waltham, MA-based Axial Biotherapeutics, which launched in 2016 with a $19 million Series A financing round, last summer dosed the first patient in a Phase 1b/2a trial of an investigational drug designed to ameliorate GI and behavioral symptoms in people with autism spectrum disorder. Last April Flagship Pioneering took the the wraps off Kintai, a startup with 10 programs in its pipeline designed to tap into the connections between different regions of the gut and different systems in the body to treat disease.

When Kallopye first launched, it planned to develop therapeutics and consumer products, but has since narrowed its focused to small molecules that can block or boost the signals that run between the gut and the rest of the body.

Kallyope’s Series B backers invested again in its Series C round, including The Column Group, Lux Capital, Polaris Partners, Euclidean Capital, Two Sigma Ventures, Illumina Ventures, Alexandria Venture Investments, and Bill Gates. New backers, including Casdin Capital and Greenspring Associates, also participated.

The biotech was started by a trio of Columbia University professors: Lasker Award winner Tom Maniatis, Nobel laureate Richard Axel, and Charles Zuker, the latter two who are well known for their research into how the brain interprets smell and taste. Read more about Kallyope’s origins here.