One in twenty people have irritable bowel syndrome. This is a common condition that affects how your bowels function. It can lead to a variety of symptoms including abdominal pain and difficulty using a bathroom.
Avoiding certain foods is the best way to treat gut sensitivities. However, many associated diets can be very restrictive. Anjie Liu, cofounder of Boston-based biotech company Kiwi Bio, knows well the difficulties that IBS can cause.
I experienced stomach pains following meals. I went to the doctor who then referred my to a specialist. This is typical IBS, Liu explained to TechCrunch. IBS affects between 10% and 15% of the population, although only half are diagnosed.
David Hachuel was also inspired by her experience to create a method to make eating painless for the 40 million Americans with IBS. FODZYME was the first product from Kiwis and it was released in May. FODZYME uses patent pending enzymes to breakdown common digestive triggers.
Today, Kiwi Bio has announced a seed round of $1.5 million from a group that includes Y Combinator and North South Ventures as well as Acacia Venture Capital Partners and Savage Seed (a fund managed Emily Leproust and Golden founder Jude Gomila).
Liu was six years old when she was diagnosed with IBS. She said that many people first try medication but then find it difficult to control their symptoms. This diet is recommended by 80% of doctors. It is difficult to follow and low in compliance, she said.
This means that many people avoid foods such as garlic and onions. Liu tried the diet for almost three years and found it difficult to enjoy life and food. FODZYME allows people to sprinkle the powder onto foods (in the case of the first product), such as garlic, onions, and wheat before they are consumed.
Liu said that the powdered form was more compatible with the food than a capsule.
Clinical testing revealed that capsules are one of the most ineffective ways to deliver enzymes. Liu stated. These products rarely make it into the human stomach where they interact with the actual users. Our powder is designed to be used directly on food and we found it works much better.
Kiwi is also developing a chewable version and a supplement to counteract sugar alcohols. She added that all of FODZYME's ingredients are safe and have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Thomas Wallach, a pediatric gastroenterologist from SUNY Downstate, Brooklyn, was one of the advisors to the company. He said via email that he believes Kiwis' work is unique among other companies in the digestive space. This is due to the fact that there is a strong placebo effect in IBS/intestinal discomfort.
To be fair, there is nothing wrong with this. If it makes people feel better and safe, I'm happy. Kiwi's goal is to introduce a therapeutic agent that can be used in a variety of conditions, including IBS, dysmotility, and short gut. This is a new and exciting idea that I am excited to investigate.
Wallach is a clinical specialist in abdominal pain disorders, including IBS, and a translational researcher focusing on intestinal epithelial health. Wallach explained that gas can make stretching more difficult and that our intestinal microbiota consume FODMAPs, which many bugs convert into gas. Low-FODMAP diets are designed to reduce gas. It is particularly effective for people with hypermobile joints or dysautonomia.
Wallach also mentioned that low-FODMAP is restrictive. He added that it doesn't include a lot fiber which could lead to a person's microbiome being negatively affected. He said that Kiwi is Lactaid for fiber and allows people with IBS to eat more easily with some preparation.
Wallach said that fiber is important for your health and should not be removed from your diet. The enzyme package Kiwis pre-digests FODMAPs. This allows for a decrease in colon fiber and avoids nutritional restrictions or the removal of all fiber. Their focus on empiric validation was impressive, with plans to both test in vitro models and, as it is generally considered safe, move quickly into clinical trials.
It's been a busy summer in New Zealand. Liu and Hachuel were both part of the Y Combinators summer cohort, which saw Kiwis inventory sell out twice as fast this summer. FODZYME is available in 30-day and 60-day supplies for $39, and retails at $39 each. Over 600 customers are now served by the company, and it is growing at an average 18% per week.
To increase its ability to scale its product, the company has been strengthening its supply chain. It also hired a head for growth and a manager of community engagement and success.
This funding will allow the company to expand the FODZYME product and to develop new products. For example, new enzymes that target unaddressed FODMAP group, or support clinical trials.
Liu stated that Kiwi Bio was not a typical biotech company or a conventional manufacturer of consumer products, food, and CPG. We needed to find the right mix of investors to support us in all dimensions, especially those who can think at intersections.