‘Food-as-Medicine’ Startups Draw Venture Capital

Startups are creating diets tailored to patients’ medical needs, betting that specially-designed foods can work as powerful weapons against disease.

Interest among venture capitalists in the medical potential of food has risen as the understanding of diet’s role in disease has grown. Scientists, using tools such as genomics and artificial intelligence, have pinpointed amino acids and other molecules that could be targeted to alleviate medical conditions.

Dubbed food-as-medicine, the field got a boost last week when a new coalition of investors, including venture firms, said its members would put $2.5 billion to work over the next three years in novel ways to improve health by making nutritious food more affordable and accessible.

Startups are exploring various avenues, among them diets designed to combat specific illnesses and technology to uncover compounds in nature that promote human health.

As new approaches, these efforts require more validation through clinical research to prove that medically-designed foods can have a significant impact on healthcare, scientists and investors said.

“We’re at the early stages of what is an exciting time,” said Sanjeev Krishnan, chief investment officer and managing director of S2G Ventures, a sponsor of the investor coalition. “The road ahead will be defined by the clinical data.”

Some members of the new Food, Nutrition and Health Investor Coalition—S2G among them—already invest in food-as-medicine. But for others, the sector is new, Mr. Krishnan said, adding that the group will meet quarterly to network and share resources in areas such as deal flow.

Venture capitalists have been investing in startups such as South San Francisco-based Brightseed Inc., which has raised $120 million from investors including S2G and Germin8 Ventures. Brightseed employs an artificial intelligence-based platform to search for compounds made by plants and other natural sources that benefit human health.

In July, Brightseed joined with biotechnology company Kallyope Inc. to screen plant compounds to identify those that could be further developed into therapeutics for weight loss and glucose control. Brightseed also is developing its own products that could be incorporated into foods or taken as nutritional supplements. These are based on compounds in plants that have a history of safe human use, according to co-founder and Chief Executive Jim Flatt.







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