The microbiome company LNC Therapeutics has entered into a licensing agreement to use a specific strain of gut bacteria for the treatment of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
The agreement was made with the National Research Council (CSIC) in Spain, and gives LNC Therapeutics exclusive research, manufacturing, and commercialization rights of the microbiome-based therapies when developed for the treatment of mood disorders.
The licensed work is based on the research of a team led by Yolanda Sanz, Professor at the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology at the CSIC.
Sanz told me that stress in early life can cause alterations in the gut microbiome, known as dysbiosis, which in turn has been associated with depressive and anxiety-like behavior in rodents.
“According to our preclinical trial, the bacterial strain [Christensenella] regulates the stress response, reducing the overproduction of [the stress hormone] corticosterone,” Sanz added.
It is currently unknown exactly how Christensenella influences the communication that occurs between the gut microbiome and the central nervous system, known as the gut–brain axis. However, as a keystone organism it is involved in regulating the whole gut microbiome and supporting the growth of more abundant beneficial bacteria.
Georges Rawadi, CEO of Bordeaux-based LNC Therapeutics, told me that this can then impact many physiological functions including regulating levels of serotonin — a neurochemical often linked to mood — and reducing inflammation, which is thought to be a risk factor in depression.
Over the course of the year, LNC Therapeutics plans to further investigate how Christensenella affects mood disorders and select a strain to use as a drug candidate. In time, the company aims to take the candidate strain into phase I clinical trials for the treatment of anxiety and depression. The hope is to show proof-of-concept in humans, which both Rawadi and Sanz believe is the biggest challenge in microbiome research right now.
The microbiome field has received a lot of attention from investors for its potential in treating conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease. Even for this emerging field, though, neurological disorders are a relatively new frontier.
Examples of other companies interested in the role of the microbiome in neurology include the US biotechs Finch Therapeutics and Axial Biotherapeutics, which are both working on treatments for autism spectrum disorder. Axial Biotherapeutics, in particular, reported earlier this month that its autism treatment met the safety and efficacy endpoints of a phase Ib/IIa trial.
However, Rawadi said that other microbiome companies in the neurology field tend to use consortia of gut bacteria or bacterial metabolites, which can be less specific than using a single strain of bacteria.
Rawadi added: “Today, our approach to mood disorders using single strain bacteria and more precisely Christensenella is quite unique, and therefore competition is limited.”
Outside the scope of neurological disorders, several companies are harnessing the microbiome for a wide range of indications, LNC Therapeutics included. For example, the French company MaaT Pharma’s microbiome-based cancer treatment is currently in phase I trials and the US company Rebiotix’ microbiota-based product against recurrent Clostridium difficile infections has reached phase III.