Addressing the next Global Challenge: leveraging the microbiome to prevent disease and improve health

We are host to an extensive and diverse community of microbes that are uniquely adapted to our bodies. Determined by our environment, our genetics, our diet, and our state of wellbeing, these microbes, known as the microbiome, have an enormous impact on our health and susceptibility to disease.

Since the American National Institutes of Health (NIH) established the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) in 2008, research activity in this area has been accelerating, as scientists seek to uncover if it’s possible to positively impact health by ‘modulating the microbiome’. 

Over the last few years, key players in the biotech industry have been racing to develop the first FDA-approved microbiome therapeutic drug. With Seres Therapeutics recently clearing clinical phase III with their oral microbiome therapeutic SER-109 to treat recurrent C. difficile infection, that ambition seems to be materialising.  

Venture capitalists have invested heavily in companies carrying out R&D relating to the microbiome in recent years. The global microbiome therapeutics market size was valued at USD 84.27 million in 2021 and is expected to expand by 31.24% from 2022 to 2030.

However, this does not mean that there are not still significant challenges and roadblocks facing researchers in the microbiome R&D ecosystem. 

Why are we running a Global Challenge campaign focussed on the microbiome?

We launched our first Global Challenge campaign (which we then called an ‘open call for research’) in the spring of 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our last two Global Challenge campaigns have focussed on environmental challenges, addressing plastic sustainability and water pollution, respectively.

In July 2022, we ran a survey with Inova and Labiotech asking our audiences in the pharma and biotech industries what they thought were the greatest global health challenges we face today. The category with the most votes was pandemics, infectious and emerging diseases, while non-communicable diseases were a close second.

As preventing disease is a broad challenge with countless approaches for solutions, we chose to define an approach corresponding with a growing industry within our networks. Therefore, this next campaign will be seeking solutions leveraging the microbiome to prevent disease and improve health, by surfacing the next generation of academic research addressing the issue and delivering these to companies working on aligned solutions.

Through harnessing the incredible power of the human microbiome to affect health and prevent diseases, we hope to accelerate solutions in a variety of therapeutic areas. Leveraging the microbiome is a transversal approach which impacts so many different aspects of health, from gut health, metabolism, immune response, to oral health. 

What is the microbiome and what are the key challenges facing researchers focussed on the microbiome?  

Our bodies are home to an estimated 39 trillion microbial cells, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The genes that encode these communities of microbes residing in sites across our body such as our digestive system, skin, and oral cavity are often referred to as the microbiome. For example, the gut microbiome contains ~100 trillion micro-organisms, which encode over three million genes producing thousands of metabolites, which replace or modulate many of the functions of the human host. After the gut, the oral cavity has the second largest and diverse microbiota, harbouring over 700 species of bacteria.

The gut microbiome and its role in health and disease has been the subject of extensive research. Microbial dysbiosis, the imbalance of the normal gut microbiota, ie. the reduction in microbial diversity and a combination of the loss of beneficial bacteria, has been linked with gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and wider systemic manifestations of disease such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and atopy. The oral microbiome, in addition to being the initiation point of digestion, is crucial in maintaining oral as well as systemic health

Through this campaign, we will be exploring the key technical challenges and proposing solutions that accelerate the development of innovative microbiome-targeted therapeutics. These technical challenges are being defined by our industry campaign partners, Caelus Health, VIC Tech, Gaia Herbs, and Colgate-Palmolive, covering research areas such as metabolic diseases (such as type 2 diabetes), IBS, and oral health.

A challenge that comes from academic research in the microbiome often stems from the complexity and cost of studying the human microbiome in university laboratories. These challenges are often mirrored in the biotech industry.

How are we going to try and help solve the problem? 

As with previous Global Challenge campaigns, our aim is to mobilise the academia-industry ecosystem to address a global challenge that is aligned to sustainable development goals with a clear demand from industry for solutions. 

Through uncovering the latest academic research in the microbiome sphere, we hope to feed the bench-to-bedside pipeline by delivering innovative solutions to companies working in this area in our life sciences network. 

With all the projects that we receive from universities, we will proactively disseminate them through our matchmaking platform to external innovation and R&D teams with aligned interests across our global network of 6,000+ companies. This is to help initiate new conversations that lead to the development of innovative microbiome therapeutics.

If you’re working on microbiome solutions in academia or industry, get involved! 

Our campaign is scheduled to launch on the 26th September 2022. If you’re registered to any of our platforms, you’ll receive more information by email. And to keep updated with our work addressing global challenges you can follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Written by Anabel Bennett. Edited by Patrick Speedie and Joseph Ferner.

Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed – IN-PART Publishing Ltd., 2022: ‘Addressing the next Global Challenge: leveraging the microbiome to prevent disease and improve health’


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