Biotech2050 is a think tank chronicling the disruptions changing the biotech industry over the next several decades. Rahul Chaturvedi, founder and CEO of Clora as well as a host of Biotech2050's podcast, recently chatted with Colleen Cutcliffe, co-founder and CEO of Pendulum Therapeutics about her focus on the microbiome space.
Listen to the full podcast episode or read key quotes from their discussion below.
Rahul: What's Pendulum's approach to the microbiome?
Colleen: Pendulum's approach is really as a scientific and medically-founded microbiome interventions company. Everything we do up until literally commercialization looks a lot like what you would do in a pharmaceutical company. And so it really starts with a high resolution discovery platform, identifying potential interventions and targets, testing it through preclinical and clinical trials, and creating something of efficacy. And then because the microbiome space offers this unique opportunity to create products for consumers or patients, that enables us to put a product into the market where it has the most opportunity of having impact. And so the process is really grounded and founded in science and medicine, but then ultimately pairing that with nutrition and understanding a person's lifestyle and how to bring better health to individuals.
Rahul: What are some of the challenges that you face when you tell people that you're working on the microbiome and helping them get a better sense of why this is an important space?
Colleen: I think there's a huge opportunity in the microbiome space and that there is an opportunity to create a whole variety of different products that are going to help people. I do acknowledge that there is a potential over-hyping issue that can be detrimental to the progress in the field, and so I think it's really important that we stress this strong foundation in science and medicine. And there will be, as with any field that's starting to take off, there will be me-toos and look-alike products that will come into the space that will just be capitalizing on its hype. And that's a real problem for the people who are really dedicated to creating products that help people.
"I think the challenge is really trying to differentiate companies and products that are truly founded on science from ones that are saying they're founded on science, but are really just great marketing innovation. And that's really what I try to help educate people on."
And so when I talk to people, I think there aren't so many people who really know the phrase "microbiome", although that is a growing number of people. I think a lot of people understand the concept of gut health and that your gut plays an important role in your health. And then the amount of science and medicine that people really need to understand and products that are being created is quite low. And so I think the challenge is really trying to differentiate companies and products that are truly founded on science from ones that are saying they're founded on science, but are really just great marketing innovation. And that's really what I try to help educate people on.
There's been a big push of just simply looking at the number of CFUs on a probiotic bottle, and more must be better, and that's how many people evaluate probiotics is looking for the one that has the most CFUs. And really, I think we can elevate that conversation to say, what is your probiotic doing for you, what do you expect it to do for you? Not just a label of a certain number of CFUs, but, "Hey, I have a disease, and when I take this probiotic, I experience an improvement in that." And that is going to be the next generation of medical probiotics that we see out there, where it is not just general gut health, but it's really targeting something that is scientifically and medically-founded.
Rahul: What's Pendulum working on now? Any particular disease areas that you're focusing on and what's ahead for Pendulum?
Colleen: We got interested very early on in metabolic syndrome, so type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, obesity. This is, of course, a huge growing epidemic, not only in the United States, but globally, and we felt like there was a huge opportunity to help a lot of people. And there was really good early evidence that the microbiome plays an important role in metabolism. For some people that think it's counterintuitive, you think about microbiome and a lot of GI disorders and things like that, but when you think about it, all the food you eat first goes to your gut, and it's metabolized by your gut microbiome. So if there is a problem with the way that your microbiome is metabolizing food, that shows up in things like metabolic syndrome.
"That is going to be the next generation of medical probiotics that we see out there, where it is not just general gut health, but it's really targeting something that is scientifically and medically-founded."
And so scientifically, we thought there was an opportunity. We knew that there was an ability to help a lot of people with the disease. And so we had spent the last six years focused on developing an intervention for people with type 2 diabetes, and I'm super excited to say that we recently got back clinical trial results showing that we were able to help people with type 2 diabetes. These are people who are on Metformin, so it's on top of Metformin where we saw efficacy, and it's basically an efficacy that is on par with pharmaceutical drugs. This is a placebo-controlled, double-blind randomized trial. Compared to the placebo group, we were able to see the A1C lower by 0.6% and the blood glucose spikes lower by 33%. So that is super exciting when you can create a product that has actual efficacy behind it.
And the current challenges are, how do we bring this to the world, and how do we bring it into people's homes and into their lives? And so we are really at the launch of Pendulum Glucose Control, which has the ability to lower A1C and glucose spikes for people with type 2 diabetes. You can check us out at pendulumlife.com, but that's really the first product that we're working on. And then we have a few additional things in our discovery platform targeting other diseases that are also microbiome interventions.
Rahul: If you look back on your path to date, what have been either the biggest lessons learned or something that you would warn your younger self about?
Colleen: I think almost like having children, it's best to not know what you're getting yourself into. I think one of the things that's been kind of an unanticipated surprise for me is how rewarding it is to be an entrepreneur. I started this company because I saw a gap and a need and thought I could do something for people, but then also myself. And I think what I didn't appreciate was that every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to bed, I am facing a day where every minute is a continued learning experience, and is driven solely to help other people, and that is extremely rewarding.
"When I wake up and every night when I go to bed, I am facing a day where every minute is a continued learning experience, and is driven solely to help other people, and that is extremely rewarding."
For me personally, I did not appreciate how much learning there would be that was necessary for this job, but I'm also learning about myself that I like that. It's dynamic, it's different, there's new challenges, and that in and of itself is rewarding. And I think paired with a mission of trying to help people, I sleep like a baby every night and I wake up fired up for the current day's challenge. So I think I didn't realize how invigorating it was going to be, to be in the health space and create products that really benefit people.