Clinical OMICS

JUL-AUG 2019

Healthcare magazine for research scientists, labs, pathologists, hospitals, cancer centers, physicians and biopharma companies providing news articles, expert interviews and videos about molecular diagnostics in precision medicine

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Page 15 of 51

14 Clinical OMICs July/August 2019 Julianna LeMieux, Ph.D. Senior Editor Microbiome startups are proliferating, exploring new markets, and colonizing diverse therapeutic niches Mining the Microbiome I t would be hard to find an area of health where the microbiome has not been impli- cated as a major player. The microbiome is there even before birth, influencing maternal-child health outcomes, and it lingers, in a fashion, even after death. In between, the microbiome contributes to health, maintaining the gut-brain axis and interacting with the immune system. It also plays a role in many diseases, including metabolic disorders, autoimmune disease, and cancer. The scientific community keeps improving our understanding of how the micro- biome works. Though still incomplete, this understanding is inspiring dozens of companies to bring the microbiome to market. These companies hope that by pro- ducing therapeutics that alter the microbiome, they may alleviate suffering and even bring about cures. Moving far beyond the cataloging of microbiome constit- uents, these companies are making advances that may fundamentally change how we treat disease. Galvanized by the gut and the Galapagos When Mark Smith was earning his Ph.D. in microbiology at the Massachusetts Insti- tute of Technology, a member of his family was struggling with a Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) that continued to rage even after seven failed rounds of vancomycin treatment. Driven by a combination of scientific curiosity and personal motivation, Smith studied fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), a relatively new practice at the time. He quickly realized the contrast between the promising data supporting FMT as a technique and the lack of clinical implementation. He learned that one of the biggest hurdles was the limited access to the FMT's key component—the fecal matter. To eliminate this barrier, Smith founded OpenBiome, a nonprofit company that established the nation's first public stool bank. "It's like a blood bank, but for fecal transplants," noted Smith. In 2013, OpenBiome provided FMT material that was used to treat six patients. Since then, the company has supplied FMT material to 46,000 patients through a network of 1200 hospitals. By contributing to the very rapid adoption of new technology, OpenBiome has hastened FMT's emergence as the standard of care for CDI.

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