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Pronutria Rebrands as Axcella Health, Forms “Nutrition” Subsidiary

Xconomy Boston — 

It’s common for a startup to grow and evolve from its initial mission, and that’s why a company originally known as Pronutria has adopted a new name today: Axcella Health.

A transition has been underway at the Cambridge, MA-based company for a few years now. Pronutria planned to develop medical foods, dietary supplements, and therapeutics when it emerged from stealth in 2013, using the information it could cull after building a library of the DNA sequences of various amino acids.

Pronutria has since, however, become a drugmaker first and foremost. In late 2014, It hired two former Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) executives, Peter Mueller and Cristopher Wright, as its chief scientific officer and CMO, respectively. It added “Biosciences” to the end of its name. When Pronutria raised a $39 million round in May 2015, CEO Robert Connelly (pictured) told Xconomy the company’s focus had become treating serious diseases with few or no treatment options. He wouldn’t totally rule out medical foods or supplements as potential products, but said at the time the firm’s “primary and secondary focus is very much around therapeutics—adding the ‘Biosciences’ really reflected much more who we are.”

Apparently that change alone wasn’t enough, because the company similarly said this morning that the name Axcella “better reflect[s] its mission.” It’s developing oral protein drugs meant to restore homeostasis to amino acid levels in diseased cells. Its website now lists four areas of focus: muscular dystrophy, drug-resistant epileptic seizures, the liver diseases nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and sarcopenia. The company has also formed a wholly owned subsidiary, Acora Nutrition, specifically for nutritional products, though it didn’t provide any other information about Acora.

Axcella doesn’t name any lead candidates on its site, but when Nestle Health put $42.5 million into the company in February, Nestle named PN-107, for unspecified muscle wasting conditions, as one of the company’s prospects. Axcella says it has three “clinical-stage candidates,” though it didn’t provide any specifics. The company has raised $112 million and was formed by Flagship Ventures in 2011.

“The introduction of Axcella represents an exciting new phase, reflecting our transition from comprehensive platform development to a multi-disease, clinical-stage company while creating a new therapeutic modality for patients,” Connelly said in a statement.