Drug Discovery
Bacteriophage virus
Bitten by the Bug - A flurry of investments fuel microbiome drug discovery

Bitten by the Bug - A flurry of investments fuel microbiome drug discovery

By Dr Alexander C. Maue

It has become quite evident that the microbiome has the potential to impact drug discovery in vital ways. In addition to impacting study reproducibility and variability, the microbiome may influence drug efficacy or serve as a therapeutic agent.

To capitalise on the microbiome’s potential to improve human health, biotech and pharmaceutical companies are devoting greater resources to microbiome-related initiatives, spurring a spike in investments and collaborations. Incorporating this potentially disruptive technology into the highly-structured process of drug discovery requires new approaches, thinking and tools.

Betting big on the microbiome

There is no denying that interest in the microbiome as a focus of drug discovery is on a rapidly-rising trajectory. In 2018, more than 2,400 clinical trials involved testing therapies using the microbiome, versus 1,600 such trials in 2017. A recent Nature article estimated that more than $1.7 billion has been spent on human microbiome research in the last decade. Looking ahead, Researchand- Markets.com reports that the global microbiome market is expected to reach $899 million by 2025, as investments pour into the study of microbiomebased therapeutics and the microbiome as a drug target.

To support the dramatic surge in microbiomerelated drug discovery, there has been a corresponding rise in initial public offerings (IPOs), venture capital investments, mergers and acquisitions (M&As) and collaborations all boosting the funding of microbiome work. The IPO of Kaleido Biosciences in March 2019 is a prime example: it set the stage for expanding the company’s efforts to develop novel Microbiome Metabolic Therapies (MMTs™), which modulate the microbiome’s metabolic output and profile. Kaleido already has MMT candidates for metabolic, cardiovascular and infectious disease; in a clinical trial, one candidate demonstrated an ability to reduce ammonia produced by the gut microbiome, which is useful in developing therapies for diseases resulting from hyperammonemia.

On the M&A front, Switzerland-based Ferring Pharmaceuticals’ purchase of Rebiotix provided the company with access to the microbiota-based therapeutic that may be closest to market. Rebiotix is in Phase III trials with RBX2660, part of its MRT™ (Microbiota Restoration Therapy) drug platform that delivers live, human-derived microbes into the gastrointestinal tract. Designed to prevent recurrent Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection, RBX2660 now has Fast Track and Breakthrough Therapy designations from the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Another noteworthy union was the merger of C3J Therapeutics and AmpliPhi Biosciences to form Armata Pharmaceuticals, a biotech focused on addressing antibiotic-resistant infections using therapeutic bacteriophages – viruses that are parasitic in nature and able to infiltrate, infect and destroy targeted bacteria....

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