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Ubiome raises $83 million and plans to get into drug development



Jessica RichmanCourtesy

  • Microbiome startup uBiome, best known for its tests that
    sequence the bugs living in us, is expanding into drug
  • Boosted by $83 million in series C funding, the San
    Francisco-based startup plans to take the information it’s
    gathered to create therapies that act on the microbiome to treat
    conditions like cancer and metabolic disorders. 
  • The team has also recruited former Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez
    to its board and plans to open up a therapeutics headquarters in
    Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

The bugs that live in our gut might one day soon be used to
guide the way we treat everything from infections to

Now, uBiome, a startup that sells tests that sequence
the microbiome, or the assortment of bacteria and other microbes
that live in us, is getting in on the action.

plans to use the information it’s assembled from its tests to go
on the hunt for therapies that could treat conditions like

, autoimmune diseases, and metabolic

To assist in that endeavor, the San Francisco-based startup said
Friday that it had raised $83 million in a series C round led by
OS Fund, along with 8VC, Y Combinator, and Dentsu Ventures. In
total, uBiome has raised $105 million. The team has also
recruited former Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez to its board and plans
to open up a therapeutics headquarters in Cambridge,

“Our mission at uBiome is to advance the science and make it
useful” uBiome CEO Jessica Richman told Business Insider.

That started by better understanding the microbiome, then it led
to the clinical tests — like the company’s SmartJane test looks
at the vaginal microbiome to test for sexually transmitted
diseases as well as chronic vaginal infections — and now it’ll be
through finding drug candidates.  

The microbiome

Scientists have been working on ways to use the microbiome
to unlock new treatments for difficult diseases. It’s led to new
companies — both on the medical side and in 


that are taking a range of approaches to looking at the
microbiome. It’s often seen as the “forgotten

Read more: The
microbiome has been called the forgotten organ — and it could
hold the ‘next paradigm shift in science and medicine’

It’s this world that uBiome wants to tap into, going beyond
decoding the bugs that live within you and instead leveraging
them into potential treatments for cancer, metabolic conditions
and autoiummine diseases. 

Here’s how that will play out. All of the data will stay
in-house, and users of the different tests can opt in to sharing
their data for research purposes. From that data, uBiome has
already started finding potential drugs that can then start to be
developed, either by uBiome or in collaboration with outside

The drug candidates can be in one of three groups: bugs as drugs
(microbes added to a person’s system to treat a condition), drugs
for bugs (treatments that target microbes), or drugs from bugs
(treatments derived from a particular microbe). 

So far, Richman said, the company has collected 250,000
microbiome samples from users, and she expects that sample count
to hit 1 million in 2019. Richman said uBiome plans to launch
additional clinical tests in addition to SmartJane and SmartGut,
which is used to map out the organisms in your gut for people
with gut conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. 

uBiome isn’t the only testing company that’s moved into drug
Consumer genetics company 23andMe
has been partnering with
pharmaceutical companies which mine 23andMe’s database of users
who’ve consented to share their data. Then in 2015,
23andMe started getting into drug development on its own, hiring
a former Genentech 
Richard Scheller,
to lead the team. Most recently,
pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline
made a $300 million bet
on 23andMe’s approach to finding new
medicines. Much of the approach is different from uBiome,
which isn’t sharing its data with partners, just potential
therapies after they’ve been discovered.

And there’s an interesting difference between a genetics test and
a microbiome test: Unlike your genome, the genetic
information you’re born with, the microbiome can change over
time. It offers the possibility that by changing up diet or other
factors, you may be able to get your microbes back to a healthy
state. For uBiome’s purposes, monitoring changes in the
microbiome could also hint at whether a drug candidate is doing
what it’s meant to be doing. 

“The way we look at it in the same way that a heart rate and
blood pressure blood draw would be considered primary care, we
think the microbiome should be on the same level,” Bryan Johnson,
co-founder of OS Fund told Business Insider. 

See also: 

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