They do not merely colonize our tissues and organs; they also execute numerous vital functions required for healthy human life. We call this flourishing flora the human microbiome.
Multiple discoveries in the last decade has revealed the involvement of microbiome in many functions of human body and its deregulation is linked to multiple disease development. This is illustrated by the increasing number of scientific publications and patent application in the field.
2 major initiatives
To better understand human microbiome, large human studies have been initiated since 2008, such as the US Human Microbiome Project (initiated by the National Institutes of Health – NIH), the American and British Gut Projects, the European Metagenomic Human Intestinal Tract, MyNewGut Project and the Flemish Gut Flora Project.
The Human Microbiome Project is the world’s largest crowdsourced, citizen science projet, aiming to characterize the human microbiome and understand its impact on human health and diseases.
MetaHIT is a project financed by the European Commission, with the central objectif to to establish associations between the genes of the human intestinal microbiota and our health and disease. MetaHIT focus on two disorders of increasing importance in Europe, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and obesity.
Next generation microbiome-based therapies
The human gut microbiome is immensely diverse. Healthy gut hosts millions of microorganisms composed of hundreds of species. Today it is well established that gut microbiome executes functions that are absolutely required for a healthy individual. This include nutrients transformation, regulation of immune system, regulation of human gene expression and many other human body functions.
In the same time, human gut microbiome is very sensitive to changes due to our life style, such as pollution, food intake or medication. So far, imbalance of the intestinal microbiome, termed “dysbiosis”, has been documented in a vast number of diseases including Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), liver disease, asthma, allergy, obesity and metabolic syndrome and in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Recently, autism, anxiety and depression were associated with perturbed gut microbiome.
The expanding wealth of information is certainly the source of a vast array of therapeutic applications. Today, biotech companies are mostly focusing on four main type of applications:
Since 2010, short of $1.8 billion of venture investment have poured into the microbiome space, about 60% of it ($1.0 billion) in 2016 and 2017 alone. Of the four areas the money has streamed into, therapeutics has led the pack with an average of ~61% of all investments.
Gut feeling of venture capitals and pharma tell them that this is the source of exciting innovation and will be addressing more diseases than previously thought. This is confirmed by the increasing venture investment and pharma deal in the space.