Charting a Translational Roadmap in the Microbiome Space – A Multidimensional Challenge
Posted 3rd May 2018 by Jane Williams
The opportunity afforded by the microbiome for developing therapeutic and wellness products is matched only by the formidable task of unraveling the science of the microbiome in the first place. Microbiome research is transitioning from a descriptive to a more mechanistic science, and progress in understanding mechanisms that underpin microbiome biology is likely to result in a surge of interest in this space on the part of the biotech, pharma and investor communities.
On May 23rd, a group of stakeholders in the microbiome space – from researchers to investors and companies – will be converging in NY at Microbiome Futures to draft a roadmap for translation in the space. During a working session led by our distinguished panelists – Elodie Ghedin, director of the New York University Center for Genomics and Systems Biology; Dirk Gevers, global head of the Janssen Human Microbiome Institute; Bernat Olle, CEO of Vedanta Biosciences; Arpita Maiti, senior director for external science and innovation at Pfizer; Denise Kelly, venture partner at Seventure Partners; Richard Bonneau, director of the New York University Center for Data Science; and Duncan Peyton, CEO of 4D Pharma plc – we will cover a number of topics we have identified as germane to this discussion through conversations with close to 100 key microbiome opinion leaders over the past few months.
At the top of the agenda for most is a need to move from correlation to causation. Simply put, we need “to understand our interactions with our microbiota; to define what are the bases for human variation in health; to understand the extent to which microbiome changes predispose or cause disease,” says Martin Blaser, professor at the New York University School of Medicine and director of the school’s Human Microbiome Program. “Only then will we know whether and how to intervene.”
Key to this will be the development of better models of disease that incorporate the microbiome component. However, creating such models – whether in silico or in animals – is not easy due to the complexity of the interactions among the many players involved.
Leaning more heavily on human translational data for developing relevant preclinical models of healthy status and of disease that can help along the path to clinical application could be one way to address the challenge. According to 4D Pharma’s Peyton, “there is a renewed opportunity, and really a necessity, to focus, at least in part, on the treasure trove of information that can be gleaned from translational human data obtained in the clinic.”
For others, the solution resides in focusing on first level biological insights. “Cultivating an individual’s microbiome to personalize treatment and provide advice using reference genomes will be key to success,” says Trevor Lawley, leader of the Host-Microbiota Interactions group at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. “We need more microbiology with phenotypic validation to complement metagenomics.” Lawley is CSO and co-founder of Microbiotica.
Regardless of the approach or combination of approaches, a potentially disruptive outcome will be a better understanding of the path to disease.
The root causes of many conditions, including autoimmune disorders, metabolic disorders or mental illnesses, remain a mystery, and thus we are relegated to treating the biochemical and/or physiological symptoms but not really the causes.
“Perhaps we should be looking more carefully as to what happens in the early development of the immune system, establishment of metabolic set points, and brain development that gives rise to the symptoms that we refer to as a disorder,” says David Kyle, CSO of Evolve Biosystems. “If we could better understand the impact of the microbiome on the development of the immune system and of what might deflect that developmental pathway onto a course that leads to a disorder, we might even be able to deflect chronic disorders such as Type I Diabetes.”
Clearly, the possibilities are many, and so are the potential pitfalls. And this applies to both basic research and its translation.
At Microbiome Futures we will thus dedicate time to discuss topics such as therapeutic modalities, the use of engineered microorganisms, the need for standards for strictly diagnostic as well as regulatory purposes and the unprecedented opportunity for collaboration in the space. You can access the full Microbiome Futures agenda here.
Our aim for Microbiome Futures is to have a broad-ranging and comprehensive discussion of the translational challenges in the microbiome space and to map out a roadmap for microbiome translation – to be published later this year in Nature Biotechnology – together with our panelists and audience.
There is still time to book your place at Microbiome Futures if you register now.
Gaspar Taroncher-Oldenburg is Consultant-in-Residence for Global Engage. He was previously Founding and Managing Editor of Nature’s SciBX: Science-Business eXchange (now BioCentury Innovations) and scientific editor of Nature Biotechnology.
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