Anizome: 'The microbiome is breaking down the barrier between nutrition and health'
Following the recent launch of animal microbiome discovery start-up Anizome, Animal Pharm editor Joseph Harvey spoke to the company's chief executive. Oliver Hardcastle explained why he thinks a greater understanding of the animal microbiome could be an industry gamechanger.
Anizome, which launched last month, believes it can bridge the gap between microbiome research and commercially-viable solutions.
"Nutrition and health are combining, and the animal microbiome sits right in the middle," said Mr Hardcastle. "The microbiome is a real gateway towards personalized nutrition and precision medicine for animals, while offering a very real opportunity to replace antibiotics with microbiome-based solutions, such as live biotherapeutic products."
However, Mr Hardcastle said there is currently a disconnect between academic research and commercialization. With the creation of Anizome, he hopes to pool microbiome expertise from the firm's founders – Baylor College of Medicine, Diversigen and Stonehaven Incubate – by building a platform approach across multiple capabilities, bridging the gap between science and solutions.
He noted: "Lots of animal health companies are interested in the microbiome's potential, though many are yet to embrace the enabling technology. It's a huge step in investment and there are a lack of platform companies offering access to innovation.
"Anizome is much more than just a technology platform – we already have internal R&D and we're also planning to recruit intellectual property onto our platform."
Translating a surge of interest into opportunity
Mr Hardcastle continued: "Last week, we presented at the Animal Microbiome Congress in Europe, which was the third conference dedicated to the animal microbiome to take place this year, highlighting growing interest.
"In 2013, the total number of conferences dedicated to the human microbiome was three. By the end of last year, the number had risen to more than 50 per year. During the same period, more than $1 billion was invested in start-ups fuelling a pipeline of product candidates.
"This has encouraged innovation within the animal health industry and we are where human health was with the microbiome five years ago. However, there is no reason why we should not be leading the way.
"In fact, there's a higher probability of success for microbiome solutions in animals. Accessing samples is easier. Then there's precision livestock farming and pet wearables, which offers greater access to data. We also have greater control over factors that influence the microbiome such as diet, which can support routine manipulation of the microbiome.
"Frequently, we rely on development of human health technology to drive advancements in animal health but this is not always the case. Take microchipping for example. Animals have driven the application and widespread adoption of this technology and this has now been further advanced and integrated into smart solutions such as microchip-activated cat flaps and precision livestock farming. We can do the same with the microbiome.
"Sequencing technology and computational biology is rapidly advancing, and the microbiome enables applied research on-farm/in-clinic by taking non-invasive fecal samples and skin swabs to correlate microbiome profiles with disease states. This is the first step toward discovering biomarkers and identifying causality to generate product candidates."
Mapping out the intersection
In the animal nutrition sector, large probiotic manufacturers are working with microbiome science to test out existing probiotics and produce new ones.
However, Mr Hardcastle stated: "Food animal nutrition companies are reluctant to register new probiotic strains not currently on the US FDA's generally-recognized-as-safe (GRAS) list because of the increased regulatory requirements that have an impact on the commercial viability of these products."
There is also high interest and considerable investment in the companion animal nutrition space. Mr Hardcastle said pet food manufacturers are crossing the barrier between nutrition and health, which can be supported by microbiome science.
An example of this is the recent steps Mars has taken to develop its capabilities in the companion animal area.
On the veterinary health side, there is low investment in the microbiome space and a limited number of microbiome-based products in clinical development. However, Mr Hardcastle suggested there is a growing awareness among animal health firms of the importance the microbiome will play in the future of preventing disease.
He said: "We can completely turn the R&D process on its head and re-think the way we treat diseases. For a long time, we have waged war on the microbiome with antibiotics, but we are starting to understand the long-term impact caused by indiscriminate killing of our gut flora. It's like a diverse rainforest. Antibiotics behave like deforestation – clearing out all the diversity – and it takes a long time for that system to recover back to a natural, healthy state."
Mr Hardcastle mapped out the current companies making R&D headway in the animal microbiome arena, with most dedicated to working on non-therapeutic performance products for livestock.
Within livestock, companies are focused on developing feed additives for digestive health (such as Bactana Animal Health), bacteriophages (Proteon Pharmaceuticals), therapeutics (EpiBiome) or over-the-counter products (Evolve BioSystems).
Most of these businesses are working in the livestock and equine sectors, with "the microbiome of our pets having largely been overlooked". Only US start-up AnimalBiome is dedicated to the microbiome of companion animals
This is despite advances in human microbiome science with diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, cancer and more, mapping much closer to chronic diseases suffered by growing and aging pet populations.
In fact, Mr Hardcastle pointed to studies that suggest a dog's microbiome is closer to a human's microbiome than previously expected and having pets in the home can actually help to improve microbiome diversity in their owners.
"We are yet to see any of the companies working across the microbiome in livestock and pets publicize advancement to the clinical stage of development," he said. "The Anizome platform approach will be the strategy that can overcome this dearth of commercially-viable microbiome health products for animals."
Mr Hardcastle said there are many scientific challenges and regulatory hurdles to overcome for developing products targeting the animal microbiome.
"Success will rely on choosing the right targets and making sure that probability of technical success is balanced with market needs," he noted. "There is no doubt that the microbiome offers high potential to provide new and improved ways to enhance the health of both farm and companion animals."