By Syed Adil Abbas
How often have you seen advertisements for yogurt, fiber-rich breakfast products, or nutritional supplements that “boost the body’s natural balance”? We’ve known for a long time that the bacterial culture in our gut flora is important to our health, but the potential for these microorganisms has now really gained momentum as advanced drugs based on our microbiome are very soon.
The human microbiome is the term used for the diverse collection of microorganisms found in and within the human body. Research efforts in this area are extensive, focusing on identifying these microorganisms and their effects on our health.
Forward-thinking researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and startups are in the process of developing advanced products and forms of treatment based on research in this area. An early example (around the 1950s) is Fecal Microbial Transplantation, in which gut bacteria are transferred from a healthy donor to a patient. The area has evolved significantly since then. Technologies under development are drugs better known as postbiotics, drugs based on sophisticated collections of specific health-promoting bacteria and metabolites that can, for example, treat cancer.
The potential is huge and researchers around the world are working to develop solutions.
For example, a microbiome-based drug for the treatment of infectious diseases is expected to hit the market soon. The drug will be able to fight bacteria, one of the most common causes of diarrhea.
At the same time, promising studies show that the microbiome has an impact on a wide range of diseases, from cancer to mental disorders and autism, in addition to, for example, COVID-19.
The microbiome has also created a new level of competition between dietary supplements on the one hand and pharmaceuticals on the other. While probiotics, defined as live bacteria aiming to change the intestinal microbial flora, are a new field for the pharmaceutical industry, they have been marketed by nutrition companies for years.
While microbiome-based drugs are driving pharmaceutical companies into the food technology and nutrition industry, innovations in nutrition are increasingly leaning towards the pharmaceutical industry. This is reflected in the partnerships that are currently being formed between the two industries. For example, major player Nestle? entered into a strategic multi-million dollar partnership with Boston-based biotech company Seres Therapeutics.
Flagship Pioneering, a famous venture capital fund headquartered in Boston, USA, became one of the first to see the potential in this field with its investment in Seres Therapeutics in 2012.
Another Boston-based venture fund called CARB-X has recently invested in fast-growing Danish company SNIPR BIOME, which will use CRISPR technology to precisely and effectively kill harmful bacteria in the microbiome.
Home to numerous microbiome initiatives and pioneers in drug development research and innovation, Boston is undeniably the global hub for biotechnology.
In the future, medicines will be more tailored to you and your unique needs. Researchers have so far worked to characterize a person using genetics and environment, but with the great knowledge we have about the microbiome, our gut flora will be included in the future.
The microbiome adds a new dimension to personalized medicine, both for the diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of diseases.
Sequencing each patient’s microbiome may become common practice in the near future to help select the most appropriate treatment for the individual, and microbiome-based drugs are expected to be part of and complement current treatment modalities.
Thus, innovations in the microbiome will play an important role in accelerating the development of drugs and treatments that reflect our unique genetic profile and lifestyle.
Development work towards realizing personalized medicine requires the creation of platforms that require strong collaboration between disciplines and integration of health data.
Oman can play an important role as our healthcare system and nationwide patient data lay the foundation for a massive data platform that could position Oman as a leading country in data management and clinical microbiome research. Higher education institutions can be of great help in this regard. We have some convenient tools to uncover what could be described as a biological goldmine.