Go behind the scenes with this video to see how ITM investigator Cathy Nagler, PhD, turned her research discoveries into a company.
A company launched by a University of Chicago researcher is poised to find new treatments and prevention medications for food allergies, giving the almost 15 million Americans who suffer from this disease options beyond just avoiding their trigger foods.
ClostraBio launched in the fall of 2016 to apply the groundbreaking research of Professor Cathryn Nagler to find new medications to cure, treat, and prevent food allergies using the microbiome – the massive community of tiny organisms that naturally live in and on the human body.
“Our bodies are 99 percent microbial,” said Nagler, PhD, the Bunning Food Allergy Professor at the University of Chicago and co-founder of ClostraBio. “It has become really clear in the last 10 years that the microbiome has profound influences on our health. ClostraBio’s approach is harnessing the power of the microbiome to prevent and treat disease.”
The company brings together a dream team of academic and entrepreneurial experts, along with the high-tech UChicago research infrastructure to be at the forefront of treating and preventing food allergies.
In 2014 Nagler and her team discovered that the presence of Clostridia, a common class of gut bacteria, protects against food allergies by acting as a barrier that prevents the trigger foods from entering the bloodstream and sparking an allergic reaction. Nagler’s group identified the differences between the bacteria in the guts of healthy infants and those who were allergic to cow’s milk in 2015, and her team has created mouse models that mimic the human microbiome by transferring bacteria from infants into mice.
“We have been able to make these discoveries because we can actually transfer fecal material from patients into mice,” Nagler said. “The fact that we’ve conferred the babies’ phenotype to a mouse by only transferring the fecal material is mindboggling. That clearly suggests that the microbiome is controlling this process, in addition to giving us a platform to work with to test our drug candidates.”
ClostraBio will use these special mice and controlled UChicago lab environments, such as the Gnotobiotic Mouse Facility, to test their potential treatments.
“The Gnotobiotic Mouse Facility is so unique that it can’t be easily replicated elsewhere,” Nagler said. “We don’t have to start from scratch, which will allow us to move our findings forward as quickly as possible.”
Nagler tapped into the UChicago innovation pipeline to commercialize her work, allowing ClostraBio to incorporate, receive funding, and hire its first employee in less than a year.
The University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM) first awarded Nagler and her team a Technology and Commercial Development Pilot Award to create and test the mouse models on which potential ClostraBio microbiome-controlling allergy treatments will be evaluated.
After the ITM-funded project proved the process was successful and could scale, Nagler and her team used that data and the resources from numerous UChicago organizations to launch ClostraBio, including the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and its UChicago Innovation Fund and Technology Commercialization and Licensing (TCL) teams, the University of Chicago Institute for Molecular Engineering (IME), the Booth School of Business, and the Biological Science Division.
ClostraBio co-founders includes serial entrepreneur and materials scientist Jeffrey Hubbell, the Barry L. MacLean Professor of Molecular Engineering Innovation and Enterprise at UChicago. Hubbell has founded three companies and has 77 patents bearing his name. For ClostraBio, he is creating a synthetic version of a bacterial product that regulates the gut barrier and immune system, which Nagler will test in her mouse models. Fellow co-founder Bruce Hamaker, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Food Science, director of the Whistler Center of Carbohydrate Research at Purdue University, has worked for more than 20 years on projects to boost the nutritional properties of cereal grains and create incubation centers to work with local startups.
The company has also secured its first investors in long-time UChicago philanthropic donors who invested $800,000 to fund the next year of ClostraBio’s operations. That financial contribution allowed Nagler to bring on John Colson, PhD, a former IME postdoctoral fellow and active Polsky member, as ClostraBio’s Project Manager and first employee.
“I came to the University of Chicago with the explicit goal of becoming an entrepreneur,” said Colson, who took advantage of the training, networking, and other UChicago innovation resources. “We’re looking forward to transforming the treatment landscape for food allergies and impacting the lives of parents, children, and others who suffer from it.”
More than 30 years of Nagler’s career has been dedicated to research, and she said this step into entrepreneurship with ClostraBio would not have been possible without UChicago’s backing and innovation pipeline.
“I’m passionate about my research, and now I’m excited to see how it can make a greater impact on patients’ lives,” Nagler said. “Being able to form this company with the support all of these different parts of the University is pretty amazing.”
Learn more about how the company launched at UChicago here. Have a food allergy or know someone who does? Add your name to the UChicago Allergy and Asthma Research Registry here to find out about clinical trials that may be of interest to you or your loved ones.
ClostraBio is a discovery- and preclinical-stage biopharmaceutical company creating some of the first drugs to prevent and treat life-threatening food allergies by harnessing the power of the microbiome – the millions of bacteria and other microbes naturally living in and on people. ClostraBio is using this new approach to develop ways to improve the protective ability of the gut microbiome to produce treatments for the more than 15 million Americans who suffer from food allergies. A team of world-renowned University of Chicago scientific and business experts launched the company in 2016, and its work has been showcased everywhere from premier journals to TIME Magazine. Explore the research behind the business here. Learn more and get involved with the ClostraBio at www.clostrabio.com
About the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation drives venture creation and technology commercialization within the University of Chicago and surrounding community. Through education, partnerships, and venture support, the Polsky Center advances the knowledge and practice of entrepreneurship and accelerates the commercialization of research. Among its offerings is the top-ranked accelerator program, the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, which is where companies like GrubHub and Braintree got their start. Since 1996, the New Venture Challenge has helped launch more than 160 companies worldwide that have gone on to achieve more than $4 billion in mergers and exits and raised over $575 million in funding. The Polsky Center helps students, faculty, staff, alumni, researchers and local entrepreneurs navigate the complex process of creating and growing a startup. Its resources include a 34,000 square-foot, multi-disciplinary co-working space called the Polsky Exchange; a $20 million Innovation Fund that invests in early-stage ventures; and a state-of-the-art Fabrication Lab for prototyping new products. By leveraging the University’s distinctive strengths in research and a combined research budget of more than $1.5 billion from its three affiliates—Argonne National Laboratory, Fermilab, and the Marine Biological Laboratory—the Polsky Center paves the way for more ideas to have a meaningful impact on society. Learn more at polsky.uchicago.edu.
About the University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM)
The University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM) helps make scientific discoveries possible and speeds up the time it takes to convert that research into real-world applications that improve people’s health. The ITM works with more than 60 institutions across the country as part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) consortium to advance medicine in innovative ways. During the last 10 years, the ITM has connected more than 2,000 researchers and community organizations with funding, training, and other resources while forging connections across departments, universities, and patient advocacy groups. Total funding for the ITM has exceeded $60 million since its 2007 inception through the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) CTSA grant numbers UL1 TR000430, KL2 TR000431, and TL1 TR000432, and through the University of Chicago Medicine and Biological Sciences. Visit us at itm.uchicago.edu to learn more or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter @UChicagoITM.
**This research is supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under Award Number 4 UL1 TR 000430-09. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.