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23 May 2017

Technology of the year: Gusto Global, University of Chicago

Gusto Global, a spinout of University of Chicago, has been awarded the Technology of the Year award by Global University Venturing.

Author: Thierry Heles, editor

Chicago University (UChicago) has certainly had an eventful year.

The institution undertook significant restructuring efforts between May and October 2016 to unite its tech transfer office UChicago Tech, the community-focused innovation hub Chicago Innovation Hub and the Polsky Center for Entrepeneurship and Innovation under the Polsky Center umbrella.

In December, it dipped into its $7.1bn endowment to establish the UChicago Startup Investment Program, a $25m initiative to co-invest in series A rounds of spinouts and startups led by faculty, students, staff and alumni.

You might be forgiven for thinking that between those efforts, the university was producing less astounding spinouts but you would be sorely mistaken.

In fact, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, through its UCGo Startup License program, in January 2017 generated one of the most intriguing companies of the year: Gusto Global, which aims to better understand the behaviour of the human gut microbiome in order to develop more efficient drugs.

Based on research conducted by Jack Gilbert and John Alverdy, Gusto Global will develop drugs that exploit the human gut microbiome, made up of some 30 trillion microbes that form a complex system believed to calibrate the immune system, affecting response to surgery as well as the likelihood of disease and mental health disorders.

The company has created a computational modelling platform, Gust+, that runs thousands of simulations in order to predict how those microbes interact with each other and impact the immune system. The simulations rely on databases from human studies.

Gusto Global is part of a growing list of spinouts that are using an increasing understanding of the human gut to develop healthcare products.

That understanding could prove a seismic shift for the treatment of a whole range of diseases that are not even, at first glance, related to the gut. Axial Biotherapeutics, a spinout of California Institute of Technology, for example is trying to decipher the link between the microbiome and the and the central nervous system to develop treatments for neurological conditions.

What is interesting about Gusto Global is however also the origin of its underlying technology: Jack Gilbert is the faculty director at the Microbiome Center, a collaboration among Argonne National Laboratory, the Marine Biological Laboratory and UChicago. John Alverdy meanwhile is the executive vice-chair at the Department of Surgery and a professor of surgery.

While collaborations are nothing extraordinary in the academic world, the breadth of different organisations involved behind the scenes here is still notable and shows just how much of an impact microbiome-based healthcare is expected to make.

The initial research by Gilbert and Alverdy was supported through a National Institutes of Health grant and the spinout is now collaborating with an undisclosed pharmaceutical firm to optimise its probiotic formulations.

The co-founders and investment bank Fennebresque & Co have injected an undisclosed amount of seed capital, which is slated to be followed by a series A round later this year.

Gilbert said: “We believe it may be possible to treat chronic and acute diseases like allergies, infections or irritable bowel disorder by delivering microbes – living micro-organisms – into your gut via a pill.

“These micro-organisms will interact with the patients’ immune system and the microbiome that is already in their gut to help reduce inflammation and wipe out  disease-causing pathogens.”

John Flavin, who leads the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, said: “It is exciting to see Gusto emerge from the university’s campaign to increase entrepreneurship on campus.

“It is just a real privilege to work with Jack and John. They are dedicated to developing treatments that improve people’s lives.”

Copyright Mawsonia Limited 2010. Please don´t cut articles from www.globaluniversityventuring.com or the PDF and redistribute by email or post to the web without written permission.

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