New Startup Vedanta Harnesses Microbial Activities to Boost Healthy Immune Function

12/23/10

Scientists are finding new and amazing evidence that networks of bugs, bacteria, and other microbes in our bodies might help us maintain healthy immune functions—and the absence of them could make us sick. Vedanta Biosciences, a newly formed startup in Boston, is emerging from top-secret status to reveal its goal of developing treatments based on the relationships between microbes and our immune system.

PureTech Ventures, a Boston firm that specializes in founding life sciences startups based on new scientific discoveries, has formed Vedanta this year with leading academics in the fields of immunology and microbiology, according to Daphne Zohar, a managing partner at PureTech and acting CEO of the company. Vedanta is now coming out of stealth mode as a paper co-authored by one of the firm’s major scientific contributors, Kenya Honda of the University of Tokyo, is being released today in the journal Science.

The paper explains the discovery, which Vedanta is working to commercialize, of how a class of bacteria or “Good Clostridia” in the gut might prevent the immune system from going awry and causing inflammation, according to the startup. (Clearly, these good-guy bacteria don’t include the harmful Clostridia such as C. diff.) The scientists show how feeding the bacteria to mice stymied the development of certain allergies and inflammatory bowel disease. Their study found that the bacteria help recruit regulatory T cells to the gut whose job is to prevent such ailments caused by unchecked immune responses.

Vedanta is working with its scientific advisors to translate this discovery into potential treatments for human diseases, says Bernat Olle, a PureTech senior associate who co-founded Vedanta and serves as the its vice president of operations. “We think that the work Honda has done makes a strong case for” developing drugs for “allergies and inflammatory bowel disease,” Olle says. “We’re in the process of now prioritizing the [health] conditions we want to go after.”

The startup, which is incubating in PureTech’s Boston office, appears to be tapping a highly energized field that is rapidly providing clues about why allergies and autoimmune diseases have been on the rise in the U.S. and other developed countries. The so-called “Hygiene Hypothesis” suggests that a … Next Page »

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