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Symbiotic, biotech startup, gets $100G for work on pill to restore gut microbes

Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch on June 23, 2014

Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch on June 23, 2014 in Port Washington. Symbiotic Health Inc., a biotech startup he co-founded, has received $100,000 for its work on a pill derived from fecal matter. Credit: Newsday / Daniel Rader

Symbiotic Health Inc., a biotech startup with offices in Roslyn Heights, has received $100,000 in funding for its work on a pill derived from fecal matter that is used to treat patients depleted of necessary gut microbes.

Symbiotic got a $50,000 loan that can be converted into an equity stake from Jove Equity Partners, an East Setauket venture capital fund that is a member of the Long Island Emerging Technologies Fund, a seed fund for startups. It also received a $50,000 grant from Accelerate Long Island, which promotes tech growth on the Island. The money will be used to further develop the company's capsule treatment and demonstrate the pill's efficacy.

The pill contains bacteria needed to fight off Clostridium difficile, a gastrointestinal bacterium that leads to chronic diarrhea and more serious conditions like colitis. C. diff, as it's known, often afflicts older hospital patients treated with high doses of antibiotics.

"Antibiotics are lifesaving drugs, but like any treatment they can have side effects," said company co-founder Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious disease specialist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.

In 2011 it was estimated that C. diff caused about 500,000 infections in the United States and 29,000 patient deaths within a month of diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.

Hirsch has been using the experimental treatment on local patients since 2012, based largely on earlier Canadian research.

"We're using a version of the capsule right now that's effective, but it's not as stable and scalable as what we're developing," Hirsch said.

The market for microbiome therapies -- medicines based on human bacteria -- is new, and such treatments generate excitement within the biotech world, said Mark Lesko, executive director of Accelerate, based in Melville. "There are a number of companies in this space, and the numbers are growing almost weekly," he said.

Hirsch and Symbiotic chief executive Gerard Honig, a former fellow at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, founded the company at Hirsch's office at North Shore in 2013.

The company later moved part of its research operations to Harlem Biospace, a biotech incubator in Manhattan. Following the funding -- the first the company has received -- the startup will relocate its city operations to Long Island. It plans to add two full-time employees by summer's end.

"The funding has essentially brought back a company that was creeping off Long Island," Lesko said.

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