Biofortis Mérieux NutriSciences met Jonathan Scheiman, co-founder and CEO of the company FitBiomics (Boston, USA) during the 2018 Probiota Event. In the field of sport and nutrition innovation, we found relevant to interview him about FitBiomics' history and challenges.
FitBiomics is a sports biotechnology company spinning out of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. FitBiomics utilizes next-generation sequencing to understand what makes elite athletes unique. In particular, they sequence the microbiome of elite athletes to identify and isolate novel probiotic bacteria for applications in sports performance and recovery.
Before founding FitBiomics, Jonathan was a research fellow at the Harvard medical school in the laboratory of George Church. He has worked on transformative sequencing technologies and programmable cellular engineering, with publication in leading journals such as Science and Nature Methods.
1/ Why are you interested in Athlete Microbiome & performance? What is the historical context of your work in this field?
Well, I used to be a basketball player. I played ball at St. John's University and we won a Big East Championship and an NIT Championship.
I always say that I wanted to play in the NBA but I didn't make it so my backup plan was getting a PhD in molecular biology. From there, I did my postdoctoral fellowship in George Church's lab at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, at Harvard.
Our lab builds tools to read and write genetic information. Being a former athlete and a scientist, for me personally, I am very passionate about bridging together the sports and science communities in ways that are functional, profitable, and ultimately educational. FitBiomics is the culmination of that. We've done a lot of R&D the past three years at Harvard and made a series of discoveries which we are now trying to translate into real word applications and products as a startup.
We're aiming to disrupt athletics, sports nutrition, and probiotics while promoting health and fitness to the masses.
2/ What is the business strategy of FitBiomics? Your point of view on the probiotic market in sports field?
FitBiomics is a human performance biotech startup identifying and isolating novel probiotics from the microbiome of elite athletes - then commercializing as freeze dried food, beverage, and supplement ingredients to disrupt the $115 billion sports nutrition market.
We also envision applications beyond athletics - for general health and fitness. In essence we're mining the biology of the most fit/healthy people in the world and then extracting that information to help them and others.
We spun out of Harvard in April and as a startup, we're pretty much always in fundraising mode. And as a sports biotech startup, we're always looking for new athletes and teams to work with.
As far as opportunity, the current sports-based nutrition market generated $115 billion in revenue in 2015, but it consists mostly of electrolytes and protein while relying on athlete endorsements for sales – and therefore can use an infusion of scientific innovation.
As genomics advances have evolved our ability to map and understand individual microbial information, we now have the ability to provide athletes an unprecedented amount of biological data, which may provide applications for novel training and personalized nutritional interventions. Further, there is a tremendous opportunity to develop novel products, using the microbiome to isolate performance-based probiotics derived from elite athletes’ biology. And since probiotic focused sports products made up less than 1% of sports based nutraceuticals, there is currently a large white space for sports-related probiotics.
We are dedicated to mining microbiome fitness information of elite athletes through studying the effects of athletic training and competition on their microbial ecosystem. We then translate athlete microbiome data into purified probiotics ingredients with mass-market distribution. You can find out more at www.fitbiomics.com
- we're very excited about our science, team, and vision and believe we can be disruptive now and for years to come.
"FitBiomics is a human performance biotech startup identifying and isolating novel probiotics from the microbiome of elite athletes[...]"
3/ What is your main discovery when analyzing the athlete's microbiome?
While at the Wyss Institute For Biologically Inspired Engineering, FitBiomics has made a series of discoveries: identifying unique differences in the microbiome between athletes and non-athletes, athletes by different sports, as well as establishing bacterial abundance profile between performance and recovery states.
In particular, we discovered novel probiotic candidates that increase in abundance in the gut after strenuous exercise, naturally breakdown lactic acid, and convert it into anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids.
Preliminary results from pre-clinical functional testing in animal models indicate these probiotic candidates clear blood lactate and reduce inflammation in mice after exercise. During our seed stage we will initiate safety toxicology and human functional studies. Additionally we have discovered athletes have unique genetic variants of the two bacterial species that currently make up 90% of the $60 billion probiotic market - Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Many of these species evolve and cater to the physiological demands of their hosts, so if a goal of the probiotics industry to innovate by discovering novel functional variants of these species, looking into the biology of the most fit people in the world is a good place to start. And as these species are Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS), these will be the first probiotics we bring to market.
4/ What kind of application do you expect? What is your main targeted population for your probiotics?
FitBiomics is focused on studying athlete microbiomes to identify beneficial bacteria that contribute to energy metabolism, protein metabolism, neurology, and immunology for applications in promoting optimal endurance, strength, mental toughness, and recovery, respectively.
Ideally, by understanding the biology of elite athletes from different sports with various physiological demands we can identify a series of probiotic candidates, that we can then functionally validate and commercialize for different applications.
Though, you don't have to play in the NBA to want to be more fit.
"Our overall mission is to empower athletes - all athletes".
While we are working with elites at the professional, Olympic, and national level and providing them their microbiome data for performance optimization, we translate this data to disrupt nutrition and fitness with novel probiotics for everyone. Ultimately we aim to improve the health, wellness and athletic performance for the athlete in all of us.
5/ Besides Probiotics what is about personalized nutrition?
Using metagenomic sequencing technology and analysis - we're able to identify the bacterial composition of an athlete's gut microbiome AND what they are doing from a metabolic functional standpoint.
Additionally, we're able to see how an athlete's microbiome composition and function change between performance and recovery phases in a longitudinal manner, as well as compare an individual athlete with other athletes, from different sports, as well as non-athletes. That's a lot of biological information.
Part of our job is to mine that data to look for novel probiotic candidates (universal, or sports specific). But another aspect is to convey this information, and what it means, to athletes in terms of applications for gut fitness as well as potential nutritional and training interventions.
Now, it will take time and a lot of data to start making personal diet recommendations, but we have to start somewhere. And by tracking an athlete (during a week, a season, or even a career) and correlating microbiome data with dietary and performance metrics, we might be able to get a sense for an "optimal" microbial composition and how to fine tune it with diet.
In a sense, can we identify the beneficial bacteria in athletes, and then recommended food that will promote their growth and functionality?
6/ what is your next target populations?
FitBiomics spun of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, at Harvard University, this past April. We are exclusively licensing intellectual property developed from athlete microbiome research over last 3 years. We're taking a hybrid commercialization approach.
All of our athlete derived probiotics can be utilized in a B2B model - taking an "intel of probiotics" approach, providing probiotics as industrial scale freeze-dried ingredients to food, beverage, and supplement companies. In parallel FitBiomics will develop a fitness probiotic product with athlete derived Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) probiotic strains as an initial market entry point that we will sell directly to athletes and consumers.
"Our goal is to build brand awareness with athletes, teams, and consumers", while taking advantage of opportunities for applications beyond athletics as an ingredient supplier.