The success of the Human Genome Project in 2003 led to the launch of the Human Microbiome Project, which envisages mapping the microbial diversity that exists inside the human body. Just as the case with the Human Genome Project, the Microbiome project has important implications with respect to the pharmaceutical industry.
The human microbiome is still an emerging field and focuses on the more than trillions of bacteria that live in our bodies. The important thing to know is that there is a mix of good and bad bacteria, which is very significantly linked to the way diseases are studied and treated.
An academic field is deemed to become a major marvel when the pharmaceutical sector decides to invest in it. Just last month, Johnson and Johnson made a major investment along with Second Genome (Biotech Company) to focus on the human microbiome. The idea is that the companies can look at drug targets that work by modifying the kind of bacteria that lives inside our gut. This can result in breakthrough drugs for a number of painful ulcers and even liver cirrhosis.
Another factor is that academic labs and small scale startups in this domain have the option to use services from companies during the formulation development phase. This ability would increase the time period in which such drugs can be made. Previously, microbes were being used as a factory for producing compound of interest. Now the idea is to use such formulations to allow good bacteria to prevail inside our bodies.
The domain of immunology and vaccine design is also a major interest to pharmaceuticals. With the model of human microbiome, it is possible to ‘reverse’ design a vaccine. Investment in the area would provide the companies with mid-term and long-term value that can allow them to pursue the goal of unmet medical needs.
Drug development for hepatitis C has also been a major target. The available drugs in the market are genotype specific and there are a number of side effects associated with the interferon/ribavirin therapy.
The latest research focuses on how the bacterial community inside the gut area influences viral entry and possible infection. It has already been shown that excessive cholesterol or fat bodies like liposomes allow viral particles to enter the cells undetected. The pharmaceutical sector is deeply interested in developing drugs that selectively target the entry and are non-harmful to the human.
Probiotics is another area that is massively expanding because of the microbiome project. Since now we have the information about the good and bad bacteria, relevant progress can be made in this domain. The idea is to identify potential candidates in the human gut and screen them for probiotic discovery, and later establish them for commercialization.
Molecular detection of food borne pathogens had been a major industry interest during the last decade. With this new truck load of information, the screening strategies can be improved and made more targeted. Moreover, it can now be understood that how the food borne pathogens would affect the good bacteria residing inside our bodies. This relationship was previously untapped and now has been simplified using next generation sequencing technologies.
The world of medicine and science in general is generating massive information on living systems that was previously unknown. The idea is to make this information functional in product development for the benefit of the public.