The start-up changing the game for IBD 

Jenny Bailey, CEO of Ferryx tells Lu Rahman how its leading product FX856 came to life and how it’s a game-changer for inflammatory bowel disease since it can act during active inflammation. 

Ferryx is an innovative bio-tech start-up. It is a University of Bristol spin-out with a focus on gut health and IBD in particular. Its mission is to improve the quality of life of 6.8 million people worldwide suffering from inflammatory bowel disease by providing a treatment without negative side effects unlike those already existing on the market. 

Gut inflammation has a significant impact on quality of life. Diarrhoea, painful cramps, bloating and fatigue impact on people’s ability to live the life they want, including impacting on their work life and social life.  

Ferryx develops live bacterial products, often referred to as probiotics, for the treatment and prevention of gut inflammation. Probiotics are popular with patients with gut complaints, and many are currently available on the market but, no currently available product is able to function during active inflammation. Inflammatory bowel disease is a relapsing/remitting condition, and it is during these periods of relapse that patients will often turn to probiotics, however, no currently available probiotic has demonstrated efficacy in reducing active inflammation. The drugs used to treat active inflammation present significant negative side effects and patients will avoid these as much as possible. Ferryx’s lead product, FX856, is a live bacterial product which has anti-inflammatory properties, a great safety profile and can function during active inflammation. This allows patients another option to control their disease.  

Jenny Bailey is Co-founder and CEO of Ferryx. She has been responsible for the development of FX856 since its early stages and has led its commercialisation over the last two years. She is supported by Dr Tristan Cogan, Co-founder and CTO of Ferryx and a Senior Lecturer in Infectious Disease at the University of Bristol.  

LR: Can you describe the development of FX856 and what potential does it have?  

JB: After a brief conversation with Tristan Cogan, we realised that there is a lack of efficacy data for probiotics in treating active inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Gastrointestinal inflammation affects millions of people and animals worldwide but the lack of satisfactory treatments is undeniable.  

We came up with the hypothesis that this is due to the challenging environment found within the IBD gut. Bleeding, stress or oral iron supplements cause the IBD gut to become rich in iron. Although this iron can be used as a growth factor by many of our intestinal bacteria, the species conventionally used as probiotics (lactobacilli and bifidobacteria) cannot do this. Bacterial products are popular with patients due to their perception as safe, natural treatments but currently available products cannot function during active disease due to their inability to increase growth rate in response to iron; they are simply out-competed during active inflammation. This means that during periods of active inflammation or stress, they cannot have a beneficial effect. We planned to identify potential probiotics based on their ability to increase growth rate in response to iron and the concept of an iron/stress-responsive bacterial product was developed. 

Using a rational selection process, we have been able to identify a strain of Streptococcus thermophilus (FX856). The strain shows significant potential for development as an orally administered bacterial therapeutic to prevent or treat gastrointestinal inflammation. FX856 can increase growth rate in response to the increased levels of iron found in the intestine during active inflammation or stress and can exert its anti-inflammatory effects during these periods. 

We propose the development of this product as a prescription therapeutic but, due to its excellent safety profile, we have the immediate opportunity to market this product as a food supplement, allowing IBD patients early access to a product which our lab trials indicate will alleviate their symptoms and improve their quality of life.  

The primary positive impact of the proposed treatment would be on the health and quality of life of the individual with gut inflammation. Alleviation of their symptoms via this treatment would improve health, allowing them to work and socialise as they wish. The knock-on effects of this would be to reduce the economic burden of the condition to both their employer and the health service. 

LR: Where does the company see opportunities within the biotech sector? 

JB: Microbiome-based products are a hot topic at the moment as we understand more about the impact our gut microbiome has, not only on gut health, but on the health of our whole body. There is growing evidence indicating that imbalances the gut microbiome can lead to different types of diseases which has inspired the development of several microbiome-based therapies that are currently progressing through pre-clinical and clinical trials. There has never been a better time to commercialise a product in this area and our ultimate goal is development of FX856 as a pharmaceutical product, available on prescription. 

Many companies are realising the potential of microbiome-based products. The race to get the first live biotherapeutic product (LBP) approved as a drug has begun. Last year saw the first microbiome-based drug clear a Phase III clinical trial – Seres Therapeutics’ stool-derived treatment for recurrent Clostridium difficile infection. This was a huge milestone for microbiome-based products and paves the way for other LBPs.   

LR: What are the challenges facing the development of this drug? 

JB: Currently there is no LBP on the market that’s approved as a prescription drug. Drug development is a complex process, with a high degree of uncertainty that a drug will actually succeed. Also due to the novel nature of LBPs, there isn’t a well-trodden regulatory pathway and some of the processes required are a unclear. To mitigate this we are working with the Pharmabiotics Research Institute, Europe’s Microbiome Regulatory Expertise Centre dedicated to supporting the development of microbiome-based medicines for the EU Market. We are positive that our product can pass the regulations, live up to its promise and make it to the market stage. 

Volume 22, Issue 4 – Fall 2021 

Biography 

Dr Jenny Bailey is CEO and Co-Founder of Ferryx, a University of Bristol spin-out company developing innovative bacterial products which function during gut inflammation. Bailey is an immunologist with an academic background who made the transition to full-time entrepreneur to commercialise the research she’s worked on for 12 years. 

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