MRM Health is developing a novel type of therapeutics based on beneficial intestinal bacteria.
The human body is home to about 100 trillion microorganisms (“microbiota”; bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc.), most of which residing in the gut. These intestinal microorganisms influence the development and functioning of the immune system, with microbiota disturbances shown to be associated with inflammatory and immune diseases. MRM Health is developing a novel type of therapeutics based on beneficial intestinal bacteria. These therapeutic bacteria, derived from healthy individuals, will be applied in specific combinations to restore the microbiota balance in patients, in first instance those suffering from inflammatory diseases.
MRM Health has developed a technology that allows efficient identification of microbial strains with therapeutic effects. This involves analyzing the collective genome of the micro-organisms, referred to as the microbiome, present in healthy individuals and patients. Therapeutic strains are then combined into a consortium, or a small group, of bacteria for introduction in the patient’s gut. Throughout this process, the company resorts to the most advanced simulator of the human gut, the SHIME, to isolate bacteria from and test consortia in. This unique toolbox allows to study key mechanisms prior to further preclinical and clinical testing.
We had to figure a lot of things out ourselves and did not always do things the conventional way. We often followed, very fittingly, our gut feeling.
The company is a spin-off of Ghent University and leverages the extensive microbiome and bioinformatics capabilities of the lab of Prof. Jeroen Raes (University of Leuven) and the multidisciplinary know-how in inflammatory rheumatic diseases of Prof. Dirk Elewaut (Ghent University). Sam Possemiers, at the helm of MRM Health as CEO, was already studying the microbiome back when its role in health and disease was still underappreciated. After co-founding a first company providing gastrointestinal research services, he eagerly took on the challenge of building and leading a biotech company in which the stakes are much higher. Looking back on this journey, Sam recounts “Coming from academia, we entered an environment in which suddenly we had to manage finance, HR, business development, etc. We had to figure a lot of things out ourselves and did not always do things the conventional way. We often followed, very fittingly, our gut feeling. It was really a roller coaster and a wonderful learning school.”
MRM Health is currently advancing three key programs. The first one focuses on inflammatory diseases of the gut, and in particular inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). With about 70% of our immune cells residing in the gut, intestinal microbiota do not just interact with the local but also the systemic immune system. Therefore, the company’s second program evolves around systemic inflammation. Specifically, it aims to tackle spondyloarthritis (SpA), a group of diseases characterized by inflammation in the spine and joints that affects about 1% of the population. In this quest, the company closely collaborates with the lab of Prof. Elewaut, who is also head of Rheumatology at Ghent University Hospital and a worldwide authority in the field. Pioneering work by his group showed subclinical gut inflammation in about half of SpA patients, and its association with disease severity. Currently, they are evaluating gut samples from SpA patients which were examined in detail and coupled to a structured and standardized follow-up for up to 10 years. Based on the group’s insights, MRM is developing therapeutic consortia of bacteria to alleviate SpA.
The company’s third program is geared towards neuro-inflammation. Sam explains “There is a very strong interplay between the gut microbiota and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis. It has become increasingly clear that intestinal bacteria not only impact local and systemic inflammatory processes, but also play a role in several neurologic disorders. Therefore, we initiated a program that targets Parkinson’s disease.” Finally, MRM Health also runs a program in metabolic diseases, for which they partner with an industrial leader in developing microbiome-based products.
By challenging us, our stakeholders make sure that we critically examine our actions and develop the appropriate strategies for the future.
The company also partnered up with external investors. As Sam elaborates “Having strong stakeholders on board comes with certain obligations, but also offers a lot of added value. We have very constructive interactions with our external stakeholders. They bring in a different perspective, which is very relevant in biotech where there are loads of opportunities but also plenty of risks and pitfalls. By challenging us, our stakeholders make sure that we critically examine our actions and develop the appropriate strategies for the future.”
At the moment, the company is working towards clinical testing of its first drug candidate, a consortium of six bacteria for treatment of IBD. Sam adds “Our platform technology serves as the basis for a broad set of future microbiome-based products. It allows us to further expand our pipeline, both through in-house and partner programs. Which direction the company will go and the business model we will develop in the long run is not completely set, but if we can go down the same road as our neighbors at argenx, or one of the other Belgian biotech pearls, that would be really great.”
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