BioPharma

Persephone rakes in $15M to support country’s biggest cancer microbiome study

Persephone Biosciences, a preclinical biotech focused on microbiome-based medicines, raised $15 million in seed funding on Tuesday. The company will use the money to advance its trial for oncology therapeutics, as well as to continue developing its preventive medicine for infants.

“The microbiome is a new pillar of biology, and it has been historically untapped,” said Stephanie Culler, co-founder and CEO of Persephone Biosciences, in an interview Tuesday.

Her company, a preclinical biotech focused on microbiome-based medicines, raised $15 million in seed funding on Tuesday. The round was led by First Bight Ventures and Propel Bio Partners. 

Persephone, founded in 2017, will use the money to advance its trial for oncology therapeutics, as well as to continue developing its over-the-counter medicine to prevent infants from developing illnesses.

The company’s flagship program is in oncology, where it is developing microbiome therapeutics to improve the efficacy of Food and Drug Administration-approved immunotherapy drugs, Culler said in an interview. She also pointed out that most cancer datasets are quite limited in terms of size and participants’ demographic diversity. Last year, the biotech launched Argonaut, the largest study looking at the gut microbiome of patients with cancer to ever be launched in the U.S.

Half of Argonaut’s participants will come from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds. The study will analyze stool and blood samples from 4,000 cancer patients — 1,000 patients who have colorectal cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, triple negative breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. Persephone is “very close” to announcing the first patient to be enrolled in the trial, Culler said.

The biotech will use the data it collects during the study to develop microbiome medicines and identify cancer-specific biomarkers to inform therapeutic decisions.

In December, Persephone partnered with Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen for the colorectal cancer arm of Argonaut. The companies are working to find better treatments for patients with colorectal cancer, as well as to potentially develop preventive treatments for the disease. To do this, they will look at two cohorts: colorectal cancer patients and healthy people who vary in risk for colorectal cancer as determined by a colonoscopy. 

The partners will collect thousands of stool samples that map the microbiome, thousands of blood samples representing the immune system, electronic health records, and diet and lifestyle data over a “several-year period,” Culler said.

The FDA approval process for the oncology drugs Persephone will eventually develop will require multiple studies — Culler said she estimates the company will have these therapeutics ready for testing in clinics by 2024.

For its infant medicine program, Persephone is looking at the microbiome as an area where clinicians can start to detect diseases sooner so they can be treated earlier in life. The biotech is creating a microbiome medicine for infants to prevent illnesses like food allergies or IBS. 

The company is preparing to launch an infant study mapping the microbiome of more than 600 babies during the first few months of their life. It will help them develop their infant medicine, which restores flora in babies’ microbiome to help them have a healthy immune system.

Persephone is seeking to commercialize the medicine as an over-the-counter product next year. This will be the biotech’s first market product, according to Culler.

Photo: spawns, Getty Images