From Bugs to Drugs
Mapping The Gut-Immune Axis for Better Medicines
In a recent podcast interview, Kareem Barghouti, Co-founder/CEO of VastBiome ( Good AI’s portfolio ) sat down with Neil Littman of BioVerge and discussed how the company is using AI to map the gut microbiome to discover biomarkers and novel therapies.
The following is a summary of the podcast. The full transcript can be found here.
There's some good correlations at the moment of the causation factors still early on. That's a big question that the microbiome field is trying to address. I'll give you a couple of examples. In cancer, you have patients who are being treated specifically for immune-oncology drugs, checkpoint therapies, and there are roughly 20, 30% of the population is responding well to those treatments and this other 70, 80%, they don't have a great response. So why is that? A lot of factors, of course, but one common factor we've identified in the field has identified a number of paper that's shown. This is that there tends to be a different type of profile of bacteria living in patients that respond well to the treatment and those that don't respond. They took that option, that opportunity to study further. What if we took the microbiome profile, those patients will respond as well and actually transplanted into a patient that didn't respond well, what would happen?
What if we can transplant the microbiome profile of the cancer patients who responded well to a drug to those who didn’t? What would happen? Would they respond better?
The answers to these questions are going to be significant. They will drastically improve the results of the clinical trials. And those patients who would not respond well could have avoided the terrible side effects usually associated with cancer treatment.
Most importantly, by answering these very critical “what-if” questions, VastBiome would be able to isolate an initial population for its pipeline. This has become the foundation of VastBiome’s microbiome-based drug discovery platform.
The current state of the microbiome-based therapies
Gut health is known to be connected to our overall health. And the probiotic products in the market often promote that they can restore the health of our gut, which can lead to all kinds of benefits.
Little is known, however, on why gut bacteria can have an effect on our health. Less is known about the effects of perturbing the microbiome with a probiotic, drug, or something else.
Tackling the Drug Discovery Challenges the Tech Bio way
This is our chance now with the, the technologies of the genome, the genetic sequencing and metabolomics resources technologies, we can now actually figure out what's happening in our gut. We want to create this understanding of the gut and how it's all connected to our health, but also identify these genetic signatures and metabolomic signatures that could be starting points for biomarkers and therapies.
Similar to sourcing drugs from natural products, the microbiome drug discovery process has been accidental. That is until now.
Leveraging the latest in genetic sequencing and deep learning AI tools, VastBiome’s VBx1 technology can now ingest and curate a large amount of patient data in order to determine the exact genetic makeup of the microbiomes. It can identify the common microbiome traits across the patients who have been predicted to have a positive response to a cancer drug treatment.
Using synthetic biology, VastBiome would produce the molecules based on the genetic blueprints discovered. These molecules can then be tested against the potential health outcomes, paving the way for the discovery of biomarkers and novel therapeutics.
Therapeutics First, Then Unlocking The MicroBiome Space To Others
As a startup, VastBiome relies on partnerships to validate its technology and to continuously build out a pipeline. At the same time, it is also identifying therapeutic areas where they can develop internally up until they have reached phase one clinical trial. They would then pursue a hub and spoke strategy where new companies can be spun off to continue the drug development.
Over time, as more insights are gathered, VastBiome’s technology can be used to power other applications, unlocking the entire microbiome space for all.