Sara Reardon in Nature:
The human body teems with trillions of microorganisms — a microbial landscape that has attracted roughly US$500 million in research spending since 2008. Yet with a few exceptions, such as the use of faecal transplants for treating life- threatening gut infections or inflammatory bowel disease, research on the human microbiome has produced few therapies. That is poised to change as large pharmaceutical companies eye the medical potential of manipulating interactions between humans and the bacteria that live in or on the body. On 2 May, drug giant Pfizer announced plans to partner with Second Genome, a biotechnology firm in South San Francisco, California, to study the microbiomes of around 900 people, including those with metabolic disorders and a control group. “We are looking at using this as one piece of a puzzle to understand an individual,” says Barbara Sosnowski, vice-president of external research and development at Pfizer in New York. A day earlier, Paris-based Enterome revealed that it had raised €10 million (US$13.8 million) in venture capital to develop tests that use the composition of gut bacteria to diagnose inflammatory and liver diseases.
Experts predict that the next few months will see a boom in such partnerships and investments, and that new microbiome-derived drugs and therapies will come to market within a few years. Probiotics, or beneficial gut bacteria, have become a popular therapy in recent years. Television advertisements feature celebrities touting Bifidobacterium-laced yogurt, and consumers flock to buy pills that contain Lactobacillusto quell their gut disturbances and other ailments.