In this fifth chapter on the human microbiome, we investigate how life science investors biotech and big pharma have started to pour significant amounts of money in the field, with the hope to turn some of this research into innovative drugs.
Cumulated fundings raised by biotechs on microbiome-based therapeutics amounted to 1.2Bn€ from 2007 to May 2017. As shown in Figure 2, microbiome biotechs specialisation covers a wide range of therapeutic areas, the most important ones being gastrointestinal disorders, infectious diseases, and metabolic disorders. The USA concentrate 77% of these fundings followed by Europe with 21%. Moreover, the top 5 biotechs have cumulated around 50% of overall fundings raised by microbiome biotechs. They are: Seres Therapeutics, 4D Pharma, Synthetic Biologics, Synlogic, and C3J Therapeutics. Among them only 4D Pharma is a European biotech while the remaining four are all based in the USA. Microbiome biotechs creation and fund raising have reached a peak in 2014-2015.
Over the last few years, big Pharma companies have joined the club following different strategies. Among the top 50 Pharma companies, 35 have explicitly expressed interests in microbiome research. Some of them are building partnerships with microbiome biotechs; for instance, Pfizer and Janssen have invested in Second Genome (USA) in 2013. Second Genome is currently developing two main products both in phase II on non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and IBD. Additionally, Enterome (FR) has established several strategic partnerships with Johnson & Johnson, Takeda and Abbvie in the inflammatory bowel diseases field or with Bristol-Myers Squibb regarding their research on immune-oncology. Nestlé Health Science and Enterome have also created a joint venture (Microbiome Diagnostics Partners) to develop innovative microbiome-based diagnostics.
Fig 1: Ecosystem of biotechs specialized in microbiome (TargEDys)
Big Pharma companies are also investing in R&D facilities. Janssen has created the Human Microbiome Institute in 2008 providing a favourable environment for microbiome biotechs with state-of-the-art R&D facilities. Merck opened the Cambridge Exploratory Science Center in 2016 to fuel early scientific exploration including the understanding of the role of microbiome in disease processes and, Ferring Pharmaceuticals is financing the Centre for Translational Microbiome Research in 2016 at the Karolinska Institute to explore the role of microbiome in pregnancy-related medical problems.
Investment funds are already very active in financing emerging microbiome biotechs. The two leaders are Seventure Partners based in Paris and Flagship Pioneering based in Cambridge, MA. Seventure has largely contributed to the creation of Enterome in 2011 but got also involved in many other European and non-European microbiome biotechs like MaaT Pharma, TargeDys, LNC, Eligo Bioscience, Vedanta Biosciences, etc. Moreover, Flagship’s investments cover a large spectrum of microbiome applications ranging from IBD and Clostridium Difficile infection with its participations in Seres Therapeutics to plant microbiome with its investment in Indigo Agriculture.
In microbiome research, private investments are dominated by the USA. Besides well-funded biotechs, big pharma is also investing heavily in the field with different strategies. They cover a wide range of therapeutics area, dominated by gastrointestinal disorders, infectious diseases, and metabolic disorders. In the meantime, investments are needed to develop future standards of microbiome analyses. In the next chapter, we will communicate about the key roles of private microbiome CROs (Contract Research Organization)/platforms that are emerging both in the USA and Europe.
Marc-Olivier Bévierre (Cepton Strategies), Etienne Casal (Biofortis – Mérieux NutriSciences), Murielle Cazaubiel (Biofortis – Mérieux NutriSciences), Françoise Le Vacon (Biofortis – Mérieux NutriSciences), Charles Savoie (Cepton Strategies), Alessandra De Martino (Biofortis – Mérieux NutriSciences)
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