In this Q&A, you’ll hear from Colleen Cutcliffe, PhD, co-founder & CEO of Pendulum Therapeutics, developer of microbiome-targeted products for better metabolic health. Colleen discusses the company’s approach using novel probiotics over pharmaceuticals to help people lose weight, manage diabetes, and prevent chronic conditions.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on at Pendulum?
Colleen Cutcliffe: Pendulum is disrupting the probiotics industry to restore metabolic health at a time when over 50% of our nation suffers from prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Despite spending $3.8T a year on healthcare costs, we’re getting sicker each year, which is why Pendulum is pioneering microbiome science as a foundation of human health, with products that merge the power and efficacy of a pharmaceutical with the safety and accessibility of a probiotic.
Unlike other probiotic brands on the market, Pendulum is founded and led by scientists revolutionizing the industry with science-backed, peer-reviewed products. Pendulum products feature a proprietary probiotic strain, Akkermansia muciniphila, that’s gaining traction as a keystone strain for gut health.
Over 1K science publications have researched this strain for its ability to assist in weight management and strengthen the gut lining to improve overall health. In a published clinical trial, Pendulum’s flagship product, Glucose Control (a medical probiotic), demonstrated its efficacy in lowering blood sugar spikes and reducing A1C in people with type 2 diabetes taking metformin.
With this, and much more development in the microbiome space to come, Pendulum’s vision is to create a new generation of natural products with proven efficacy.
How did you come up with the idea? What key insight led you to pursue this opportunity?
CC: My first daughter, Annabella, was born eight weeks prematurely, and shortly after birth was whisked away to the NICU for four weeks. Born at just over four pounds, Annabella received multiple doses of antibiotics during her time in intensive care as a precautionary measure due to her fragile state.
Though antibiotics served an important role in the early days of Annabella’s life, they also decimated her delicate microbiome. As she got older, I began to notice distinct differences in Annabella’s metabolism, in addition to food sensitivities, compared to the rest of the family.
It was this experience with Annabella’s early-life treatment that led me on my journey to find a safe solution to help my daughter, and many others, who struggle with chronic issues that are the result of a disrupted microbiome.
How did you turn your idea into a company?
CC: Starting Pendulum was an uphill battle that I liken to getting your first job — you send out 500 resumes only to get a few interviews. Getting our VC funding was a similar experience.
I had worked at a startup, but I hadn’t run one, and naturally, firms want to fund companies that can prove they’ve done it before successfully.
I didn’t have a background in business either. My first pitch was a deck of 25 slides, with 24 of them being about science and one about money. People would ask “what’s your business model?” — and my answers would more or less be: “SCIENCE!”
Needless to say, that didn’t work.
My pitch eventually evolved into 24 slides on the business side and one on the science. Fortunately, our first money ended up coming from the Mayo Clinic, who already knew the microbiome was the next frontier of health, so I didn’t have to convince them of the science. All I had to do was convince them that I was the one for them to invest in.
Since then, we’ve been more successful. Armed with 18 patents, and 66 pending, Pendulum has raised $111 million to date from Sequoia Capital, Meritech Capital, True Ventures, Khosla Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, and the aforementioned Mayo Clinic.
Our flagship product, Glucose Control, was developed as a clinical-grade probiotic for people with type 2 diabetes to reduce A1C and lower blood sugar levels. However, there were also a lot of customers who didn’t have type 2 diabetes who wanted to reap the metabolic benefits of the five powerful strains the product is formulated with.
We heard this feedback and created our newest probiotic, Metabolic Daily, which has the efficacy of Glucose Control but takes the form of a daily probiotic designed for everyone.
Our hope for this product is for people to take care of their metabolic health as an ongoing part of their wellness journey, as a means of PREVENTING diabetes, so they never become Glucose Control customers in the first place.
Looking at your road map, what are some of the milestones you’re targeting over the next 3-6 months?
CC: As we learn more about the microbiome and how to optimize it at an individual level, we are excited to bring new products to market over the next six months that are both scientifically and clinically backed.
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