Maintaining harmony within the gut is extraordinarily important to the human body, as this microbiome interacts with the immune, hormone and nervous system. Not only can a disruption in the gut can cause an upset stomach, scientists believe microbes play a role across a variety of disorders and diseases, including asthma, allergies, depression, and a person’s ability to recover from infections.
Scientists have long hypothesized these diseases can be treated through targeted microbial treatments, but finding the right concoction of microbes that correctly interacts with the gut’s microbiome can be tricky, given its complexity: There approximately 30 trillion microbes, and 1,000 different species of said microbes, in the human gut alone.
Now a University of Chicago startup called Gusto is using computational modeling to find the probiotic formulations that can treat these diseases. Their goal is to use tech to create a more reliable method of drug discovery.
“We’ve figured out how to target particular elements of that immune, hormone, and nervous system action in order to prevent or treat the symptoms of those diseases,” said Gusto cofounder Jack Gilbert, faculty director of the Microbiome Center at UChicago Medicine, to Chicago Inno.
Gusto’s computational modeling platform, GUST+, aggregates data from human studies to “run thousands of simulations in order to predict how bacteria interact with each other, and how they cause changes in the immune system, and human health,” Gilbert told UChicago. This modeling helps Gusto’s microbe experts–or “world class microbial chefs” as Gilbert calls them–create probiotic formulations that have a higher likelihood of success once they get to animal and clinical trials.
Gusto was granted a UCGo! Startup License, which is a standardized licensing agreement for university technology meant to help UChicago faculty and researchers efficiently launch startups from their work. They’ve raised a $150,000 seed round led by Charlotte-based investment bank Fennebresque & Co.
Ultimately, Gilbert believes Gusto could be used to create an over-the-counter medication for seasonal, pet, and food allergies, and treat sepsis, which are infections that result from surgery.
Gusto is still in early stages but in preclinical trials in rats they demonstrated that organisms they created work to cure a rat who has been infected with dangerous pathogens.
Other drug startups that are focused on the same type of treatment have run into problems when they get to the clinical trials. Most notably last year, a promising drug from Seres Therapeutics’ meant to treat Clostridium difficile infection (or C. diff.) failed its Phase II clinical trials, sending their stock price tumbling and casting doubt on whether microbiome therapeutics are effective.
However, Gilbert believes that Gusto’s systems biology approach will help avoid these unexpected failures in clinical trials.
“We want to build the car but we’re going to build the car by redesigning it from the ground up,” Gilbert said. “What Tesla did with electric vehicles…we’re doing the same with probiotic formulations.”