Health Care

Going for the gut

Minnesota biotech company pioneers game-changing treatment for deadly intestinal infections

Rebiotix, a Roseville-based biotechnology company, has taken a major step toward solidifying its place as a global leader in its field.

The five-year-old company focuses on harnessing the power of the human microbiome to treat diseases.

Last week, Rebiotix announced that the first patient has been treated at the Mayo Clinic in a Phase 1 study of its new treatment, known as RBX7455. The innovative medication is used to prevent  recurrent clostridium difficile, or C. diff., infections; 29,000 deaths from such infections occur in the US every year.

“Our goal is to make it easier to treat this disease. The new product is an exciting development for us; it’s the first oral product in the industry that the patient can get at the pharmacy. They can then dose themselves with it at home,” said Lee Jones, the founder, president, and chief executive officer of Rebiotix. “Up until now, treatment had to be delivered to the patient by a doctor in a clinic.”

The  RBX7455 proof-of-concept dosing study will enroll approximately 20 C. Diff patients at the Mayo Clinic.

Jones characterizes C. Diff as “a horrible disease,” often contracted in a hospital setting. It plagues patients with persistent diarrhea that is resistant to antibiotics.  

“The infection doesn’t go away by itself and it leaves those who suffer with it vulnerable to recurrent episodes. We’re trying to stop the cycle and give patients their lives back,” she explains.

Rebiotix now has has multiple formulations that target gut diseases in the clinical pipeline. It has pioneered technology that delivers live microbes into a patient's intestinal tract.

“The approach that we’ve taken is to get to market as fast as we could and that’s what we’ve done,” Jones adds.

Rebiotix, which currently employs 30 people, has become the most clinically advanced company in the world in the emerging microbiome industry.

Scientists are in the early stages of studying the human gut microbiome, which holds trillions of organisms. Research shows that scores of human diseases can be traced to the health of the microbiome.

Last May, the White House announced the National Microbiome Initiative, dedicating $121 million in federal and $400 million in private revenue to study microbiomes, including bacteria that live in the human gut.

Rebiotix got its start with $5 million that Jones raised from Minnesota  investors; in 2014, the angels put up another $25 million to fund accelerated clinical trials.

Jones has worked in the medical tech field for three decades. She  previously served as chief administrative officer of the Schulze Diabetes Institute at the University of Minnesota. Prior to that, she was president and CEO of Inlet Medical. Jones began her executive career at Medtronic, where she spent 14 years in product development and commercialization.

This week, Jones and her Rebiotix leadership team are attending the 35th annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, where the nation’s leading biotech and life science companies showcase their innovations.

“It’s a big meeting for us,” she says. “I’ll be on a panel with a group of experts talking about the microbiome and will meet with potential investors. We will be looking for strategic partner investors or VC investors. We’re in the process of raising our next round of funding that will take us through to commercialization.”