Scientists have been blown away by things they’ve learned the past couple years about the trillions of bacterial friends and enemies that we human beings live with every day. Now we’re seeing pharmaceutical companies showing more interest in finding new ways to exploit the growing base of knowledge.
San Bruno, CA-based Second Genome, a startup focused on what is sometimes called the “microbiome” or the comprehensive sweep of microbes that live in our guts, is announcing today it has struck a research collaboration with Janssen Biotech, a unit of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ). Terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed, but Second Genome will explore the role of microbes in ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory condition of the intestines. Second Genome will get an upfront payment, research support, and could get further milestone payments based on progress.
Separately, Second Genome said it raised another $6.5 million to bring its total Series A venture financing to $11.5 million. The cash came from existing investors Advanced Technology Ventures, Morgenthaler Ventures, and Wavepoint Ventures, as well as individuals like Corey Goodman, the company’s co-founder and chairman, and Matt Winkler, a member of the board. The money will be used to advance treatments for metabolic disease, inflammation, and infection.
The company, originally billed as an environmental health startup called PhyloTech, shifted its focus a couple years ago to turn its proprietary gene chips and bioinformatics software to questions of human health. Researchers are fascinated now about the complex interplay of “good” and “bad” bacteria that we coexist with, and how things get out of balance and people sometimes get inflammatory diseases of the gut like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It hasn’t gotten as much attention as the Human Genome Project, but there is now a publicly funded Human Microbiome Project that seeks to gain much deeper understanding of the microbes we live with.
“A breakdown in the normal relationship between the human immune system and the bacterial communities that reside in the gut appears to play an important role in development of the hallmark chronic inflammation of ulcerative colitis,” said Susan Lynch, a gastroenterologist and director of the Colitis and Crohn’s Disease Microbiome Research Core at UCSF, in a company statement. “Second Genome has a powerful platform to mine the microbiome for potential targets which have the potential to translate into effective therapeutics that dramatically impact patient health.”