Currently expanding at a staggering rate, the global microbial therapeutic products market is expected to reach US$30bn by 2030. Here, Pratik Gurnani discusses the basis for the rapid expansion of this important emerging market...
… there remains a dearth of metagenomic data and the mapping of different bacteria sources is incomplete leaving the health effects of some strains uncertain
Some time ago, it would have been beyond the imagination of many to put microbes and therapy in a single sentence and it would have been more obvious to imagine microbial products thriving as fertilisers. However, the sophisticated technologies and research facilities that biotech companies leverage has pushed the limits of what is both imaginable and possible.
Bacteria have historically been used to protect plants and trees from disease. Bacteria, naturally present in the soil, serve as a shield for plants against infections but when soil becomes overused and infertile, fertilisers containing good bacteria offer a protective boost. However, fertilisers are no longer the only use for microbes. Today, the pool of therapeutic applications is consistently broadening, intersecting multiple industries as it does so. Now, microbial therapeutics are gradually being incorporated into mainstream healthcare.
The long-term ill-effects of antibiotics on humans and animals is well understood. As a result, researchers in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries are now exploring previously unventured corners of the microbial world in the hope of finding new treatments and drug candidates offering positive health outcomes without the challenge of antibiotic resistance.
Microbial complexity leaves uncertainty
A critical component of digestion, the human gut microbiome breaks down food into microbial metabolites within the gastrointestinal tract. Following absorption into the bloodstream, these metabolic biochemicals are responsible for complex actions at a local and systemic level.1 As the influence of our macronutrient metabolism can be either toxic or beneficial, the quantities and balance of gut microbes is the subject of in-depth and ongoing research. In fact, the microbiome is so complex that many researchers are beginning to see it as an organ in its own right.2
There are many factors affecting the number of healthy microorganisms in the body of a human being. Top influencers include unhealthy lifestyle, consumption of nutrient-poor food, high dose antibiotics, fruits and vegetables that are contaminated with heavy chemicals, and rising age. As a result, changes in the number and balance of natural gastrointestinal flora such as Bacteroides, Firmicute, and Actinobacteria, lead to gut and metabolism issues. However, there remains a dearth of metagenomic data and the mapping of different bacteria sources is incomplete leaving the health effects of some strains uncertain.3
Top microbial therapeutic applications
As antibiotics can negatively affect gut condition, microbial therapeutic products are emerging as a suitable alternative. Additionally, current health and wellness trends are bringing immunity-boosting products to the front shelf.
Microbial metabolites can be used as a base material for gene-based modification, added directly to drugs as natural products to enhance healing properties, or used as lead compounds in the production of new therapeutic drugs. Modern scientific theory sheds light on therapeutic microorganism safety,4 and with the rise of genetic engineering to enhance extraction methods, many mainstream companies have been introducing microbial therapeutics into product pipelines.
Emerging applications for microbial therapeutic products include enzyme inhibitors, antitumor drugs, immuno-suppressants, antifungals, hypocholesterolaemic agents, treatments for allergies, anaemia and obesity, prevention of irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes and atopic dermatitis, and even a potential cure for Crohn’s disease. With rising demands around oncology research, microbial therapeutics are also among the candidates for precision-based cancer treatments, while anti-microbial growth factors offer the potential for enhanced tissue regeneration.3
Microorganisms are available naturally. Bacterium-sourced microbes are abundant across different sources and, because they are naturally benign, intestinal microbiota are emerging as an attractive bacteria culturing source.3 However, to leverage these microbes therapeutically researchers rely on various cutting edge development techniques, to include genetic engineering.
Having replaced the need to extract and purify therapeutic insulin from the pancreas of pigs and cows in the 1980’s, genetic engineering for the synthesis of therapeutics is generally considered to be an animal-friendly, as well as an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective technique. The process of genetic engineering enables in-vitro genetic modification of microorganisms to develop functions that target specific conditions.
Other methods have also been proposed for the modification of microbes. Chemical mutagenesis and interspecies interactions and cross-feeding have also been described as potentially sustainable techniques for microbial strain improvement and treatments but, unlike genetic engineering, these techniques are not currently supported by EU regulatory standards. Therefore, more companies are currently using genetic engineering techniques for the production and development of novel microbial therapeutic products and it is gene-manipulation that currently drives the microbial therapeutic markets.
Microbial therapeutics is a growing market
With increased concern over antibiotic resistance, the need for more personalised and safer treatments is laying a pathway for microbial therapeutics. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated market growth as a result of the current research and development around drug candidates capable of treating, or even eradicating, the increasingly prevalent coronavirus strains.
Currently, multiple collaborations and partnerships between research and academic institutions and biotech companies are being established to further explore the best use cases of microbial therapeutic products. The implications and expectations are that further disruption is to be expected around the growing excitement that surrounds microbial therapeutic products.
Author: Pratik Gurnani is Senior Consultant, Healthcare at Future Market Insights, futuremarketinsights.com