Symbiotic Health gets $100K in funding

Symbiotoc Health CEO Gerard HonigSymbiotic Health CEO Gerard Honig.

By GREGORY ZELLER // A spinoff of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research has snagged a critical $100,000 stake from Accelerate Long Island and the Long Island Emerging Technologies Fund – good news for anyone suffering from the most prevalent hospital-based infection in the United States.

Symbiotic Health, which does battle against the insidious Clostridium difficile infection, announced today that Accelerate Long Island has matched the $50,000 investment the LIETF fund made in June – the eighth time the investment partners have teamed up to back a Long Island-based startup.

Symbiotic Health cofounder and CEO Gerard Honig said the combined $100,000 investment will fund equipment and staff for a crucial clinical study slated to begin this fall. In addition to covering trained staff to administer the company’s proprietary “poop pill” and study its effects, the investment will pay for a special chamber that maintains “the environment in which these certain bacteria like to live,” Honig noted.

The clinical study will involve Dr. Larry Miller, the North Shore-LIJ Health System’s chief of gastroenterology, as well as other clinicians and researchers from North Shore-LIJ and the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. The study will weigh Symbiotic Health’s technology against C. diff, termed “an immediate public health threat” by the Centers for Disease Control.

The infection attacks the gastrointestinal tract when broad-spectrum antibiotics fight off infections but, in the process, kill good bacteria – weakening a patient’s microbiome, a community of trillions of internal microbes that form a shield against dangerous infections like C. diff, which kills 14,000 Americans annually.

Various attempts to use transplanted fecal matter from non-infected people as a pharmaceutical treatment have been made. However, most attempts at balancing gastrointestinal bacteria in this manner have fallen short: Not only do they range from uncomfortably gross to downright dangerous, but they’re ineffective in more than 20 percent of C. diff cases.

Symbiotic Health – one of a dozen companies spun out of the Feinstein Institute, North Shore-LIJ’s R&D arm – takes a unique approach: The company turns the transplanted matter into an easily consumed capsule.

The 2013 startup, currently based in the Harlem Biospace high-tech incubator, also announced today that it was relocating to Long Island to be closer to the clinical trial. Honig told Innovate LI the company is still negotiating with a Long Island-based clinic, and Symbiotic Health has not yet announced a specific location for its new headquarters.

It took Accelerate Long Island a few weeks to match the investment by the LIETF, a venture vehicle powered by Setauket investment firm Jove Equity Partners and Roslyn’s Topspin Fund. The regional business booster was waiting on Empire State Development funds that finally arrived Monday, according to Accelerate Director Mark Lesko.

“Long Island is a great place for cutting-edge manufacturing to thrive,” Cara Longworth, regional director at Empire State Development’s Long Island office, said in a written statement. “We are supporting Accelerate Long Island in their quest to find new ways for Long Island’s research institutions to partner with the business community, by investing in companies like Symbiotic Health.”

According to Lesko, waiting to share the ESD funds with Symbiotic Health was well worth it.

“First, we like the market,” Lesko said. “The microbio-therapeutics market is exploding and, in particular, C. Diff is a huge concern. And within that market, this encapsulating technology addresses a real pain point. Administering the transplanted material has been a dangerous procedure, especially if you consider the target population, which is often old and frail.

“And the founders are very impressive,” the Accelerate director added. “Bruce Hirsch is very well regarded in this field, and Gerard is just a superstar. When you boil it down, in terms of the boxes we like to check – place in the market, the team, the superior technology – this is a real winning combination.”

Symbiotic Health cofounder Hirsch, a North Shore-LIJ physician and assistant professor specializing in infectious diseases and internal medicine, said the company wouldn’t be seeking more funding for the time being – though that might change after its clinical run.

“We want to take advantage of the funds we have presently,” Hirsch said. “We’re very excited about the clinical-trials phase about to take place, and we anticipate additional funding rounds within the next 12 to 16 months.”

Honig called the joint Accelerate Long Island/LIETF investment “both vindicating and encouraging.”

“It means a great deal to us, and not just because of the money,” he said. “Our company has worked with Accelerate for some time and we’ve relied on them for a great deal of advice. I’ve also known (Jove Equity Partners CEO) David Calone for some time.

“It’s really the quality of the people investing in us that means the most,” Honig added. “They have great acumen in turning technology into commercial products, on Long Island and the around the world.”