When it comes to life-saving potential and market opportunities, it turns out the gut is a gold mine. The trillions of bacteria making up communities in our body, referred to as the microbiome, are unlocking mysteries at an incredible pace, and the market is aligning and realigning to keep up with the endless possibilities.
The crux of the discovery, only made within the last 10 years, is that our microbes have a mind of their own. The chemicals they emit interfere with the way food is digested, medicine is deployed, and even how a disease, like heart disease, metabolic disorders, or even cancer, progresses.
Biotech companies, which have been hard at work cracking the genomic market, have been forced to focus efforts on the arguably equal potential of the microbiome to develop new diagnostics that can detect relevant microbe imbalances, new therapies to correct imbalances, and new “probiotic” products to prevent dangerous imbalances. The prevention market is making headway, as over-the-counter probiotics have already hit the shelves.
The FDA has begun reviewing targeted prevention products, including protective microbial colonies for oral disease. Meanwhile, therapeutics and diagnostics companies are targeting diseases ranging from C. difficile gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel syndrome to acne, and diabetes, and cancer. The cancer efforts are centering around the ability to use bacteria to starve out tumors by competing for the same nutrients, as well as the ability for bacteria to activate the immune system to fight off tumor cells on their own.
In May of this year, the White House launched the National Microbiome Initiative, which will invest $121 million from federal agencies, with another $400 million invested from outside sources, to accelerate the research, development, and the economic benefits of the microbiome. New microbiome biotech companies are pulling investment at staggering amounts, and large pharma companies have made their own investment by hiring thousands of new researchers and building new microbiome institutes.While there many stones left to unturn – over a trillion of them to be exact—experts believe 2017 is the year the microbiome cements itself as the healthcare industry’s most promising, and lucrative, frontier.
Where Are They Now
From less than $56 million in 2016 US annual sales, emerging treatment and therapy options that explore the human microbiome have the potential to reach $9.9 billion annually by 2024. Several research institutions have received grants for and made headway with their microbiome research. Many therapeutics are in various stages of clinical testing. The most advanced therapeutics today are intended for use in patients with Crohn’s disease and recurrent C. difficile infection. In October 2018, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command awarded a four-year, $2.5 million grant to investigate the role of the gut microbiome in Parkinson’s disease.