Before Brands, a business that wants to prevent food allergies before they even start, launched this morning with $13.1 million in funding from backers including Gurnet Point, run by biotech billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli.
Other investors include 23andMe cofounder Anne Wojcicki, Kind Snacks founder Daniel Lubetzky, LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner and real estate billionaire John Arrillaga.
The company’s basic aim is to keep kids from developing allergies by working potential allergens into their lives from an early age. “We’re taking a very holistic view on how we can deliver science-based value to parents,” explained Before chief executive Ashley Dombkowski in a phone interview. Although the company isn’t ready to announce exactly what kinds of products it will sell, “edibles” and “topicals” were two possibilities Dombkowski mentioned.
How could giving kids allergens work to prevent reactions? The theory goes that by not introducing certain allergens to kids early enough, parents are raising the risk that their young immune systems will overreact to those allergens later on. So if you have no exposure to, say, bananas at all in your early life, you won’t get the chance to develop an immune tolerance and risk being allergic to bananas the rest of your days.
Kari Nadeau, Before Brands’ cofounder and the director of Stanford’s new Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research, does clinical research on the interaction of genetics and environment in the development of food allergies–and she’s found that the hygiene hypothesis holds water. The company is based on her research and, she wrote in a press release, “aligns with independently generated evidence in support of ‘early and often’ introduction of typical allergenic foods, like peanut and egg, in infant diets.”
Think of it like vaccination, but for allergies. (Dombkowski brought up cancer immunotherapy as a more high-profile example “where people harness the immune system to do our bidding.”) The company’s products will be designed to be introduced into kids’ diets starting at 6 months, which is around the time children start eating solid food. The target is (of course) millennials, who are just starting down the road to parenthood. The hope? That a blend of hard science and accessibility will be appealing to the valuable cohort.
“The science of nutrition is really exploding–there were six times more studies in 2015 than there were in 2000,” explained Greg Horn, the chief executive of Specialty Nutrition Group, former chief executive of GNC and an advisor to Before Brands. “It’s bringing science to people in the form of products that they can apply to their daily lives and benefit from.”