One in 20 people have irritable bowel syndrome, a common disorder with how your bowels work, which can cause a number of symptoms, including abdominal pain and difficulty using the bathroom.
A go-to remedy for gut sensitivity is to avoid certain foods, but many associated diets are very restrictive, said Anjie Liu, one of the co-founders of Boston-based biotech company Kiwi Bio, who knows the difficulties firsthand. of life. with IBS.
“I had stomach pain after eating and went to the doctor, who then referred me to a specialist, which is the typical course of IBS, because no one has a clue what it is. that’s wrong with you, ”Liu told TechCrunch. “Between 10% and 15% of people have IBS, but only half of these people are officially diagnosed. “
This led her to partner with David Hachuel to develop a way to make eating a painless ritual for 40 million other Americans also suffering from IBS. Kiwi’s first product, FODZYME, was released in May. FODZYME uses patent pending enzymes to break down common digestive triggers.
And today, Kiwi Bio announced a $ 1.5 million funding round from a group of investors including Y Combinator, North South Ventures, Surf Club Ventures, Acacia Venture Capital Partners, Savage Seed (a managed fund by Emily Leproust) and the founder of Golden Jude Gomila. .
Liu, who was diagnosed with IBS six years ago, said many people try drugs first, but find there is no way to manage the symptoms other than to remove half of the symptoms. foods they normally ate. The diet, known as the low FODMAP diet, is what 80% of doctors prescribe. However, it is “extremely difficult to follow and as a result there is low compliance,” she added.
For many, that means avoiding foods like garlic and onions. For Liu, who tried the diet for nearly three years, it sometimes meant missing out on life and the enjoyment of food. With FODZYME, people can sprinkle the powder on foods, in the case of the first product, such as garlic, onions, bananas and wheat, before they are consumed.
Liu explained that they chose the powdered form because it fits more easily into food than a capsule.
“We have learned through clinical testing that capsules are one of the worst ways to deliver enzymes,” Liu said. “These products hardly ever make it to the human gut where they interface with actual users. This is why ours is a powder that goes directly on the food, and we have found it to work much better.
Kiwi is also working on a chewable version as well as a supplement that will counteract sugar alcohols. All of the ingredients in FODZYME are recognized as safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration, she added.
One of the company’s advisers, Thomas Wallach, a pediatric gastroenterologist at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, said via email that he believes Kiwi’s work is different from other digestive health companies that are ‘support unproven concepts and the fact that the placebo effect in IBS and intestinal discomfort is quite strong.
“To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that, like it’s a safe product and people feel better, I’m pretty happy,” he said. “However, Kiwi is really aiming to introduce a real therapeutic agent, with potential applications in several conditions ranging from IBS to dysmotility to short bowel. It’s a new and exciting idea, and I’m really excited to be doing it. help investigate. ”
Wallach clinically specializes in abdominal pain disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, in addition to being a translational researcher focusing on intestinal epithelial homeostasis. He explained that gas makes stretching worse and our gut microbiota eats FODMAPs and many insects turn them into gas. The low-FODMAP diet aims to reduce gas and indicates that it has a very good success rate, especially in people who also have hyper-mobile joints or dysautonomia.
In addition to what Liu mentioned about the restrictive low-FODMAP diet, Wallach added that the diet doesn’t introduce a lot of fiber, which could lead to negative alteration in someone’s microbiome. Kiwifruit is “Lactaid for fiber,” allowing people with IBS to eat more freely with some preparation, he said.
“At the end of the day, fiber is good for you, and removing it from the diet is not sustainable,” Wallach added. “The Kiwi Enzyme Pack pre-digests FODMAPs, ideally reducing the amount that ends up in the colon while avoiding nutritional limitations or the elimination of all fiber. I was very impressed with their focus on empirical validation, with plans for testing model systems in vitro, and as it is generally considered a safe substance, a rapid move to clinical trials.
Meanwhile, the summer has been busy for Kiwi. Liu and Hachuel were part of the Y Combinator summer cohort and have already seen Kiwi’s inventory sell out twice this summer. A bottle of FODZYME costs $ 39 and can be purchased in a 30 or 60 day supply. The company now serves more than 600 clients and is growing at 18% per week.
The company has been busy strengthening its supply chain to prepare for its product evolution. In addition, she hired a Growth Manager and a Community Engagement and Success Manager.
The new funding will allow the company to develop the FODZYME product, develop new on-going products, for example new enzymes to combat untreated FODMAP groups and support planned clinical studies.
“We found out during fundraising that Kiwi Bio did not fit the mold of a traditional biotech company or that of conventional consumer products, food or CPG,” Liu said. “We needed to find the right mix of investors to support us in all dimensions we occupy, and especially those who are comfortable thinking about intersections.”