A piece of the puzzle, with vast potential
Given the recent advancements, it would be prudent to provide a glimpse of another dimension of microbiome research. In the last two decades, researchers and pharma companies have generated multiple petabytes of microbiome data. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) alone hosts more than 32 petabytes of metagenomic data. A single large-scale microbiome research project has the potential to generate terabytes of data. For example, the Human Microbiome Project generated 42 terabytes of data of data. Managing, processing, and analyzing this volume of data, at scale and speed, needs both computational and domain expertise. Governments and organizations across the globe, with stakes in microbiome research, thus continue to focus on and invest in the development of domain-aware digital ecosystems and computational expertise—both for resource management and research.
High performance and quantum computing stand to enable accelerated and accurate discovery process. Additionally, biology-informed algorithms rooted in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing, can facilitate a paradigm shift in mining the latent clinical intelligence from complex microbial genomes, reactomes, and metabolic networks. Developing digital twins of microbes and the organ-systems and incorporating host-microbe cross talk, is a promising direction. This can add immense value to the entire pipeline of microbiome-based solution development.
The need for innovative, cost-effective, and non-invasive solutions for diagnosis and personalized therapy continues to rise globally. Additionally, societal awareness of the concept of ‘holistic health’, wherein health is perceived as a multi-modal state of ‘balance’ that needs continuous and personalized care or monitoring, is changing healthcare consumers’ demands and expectations. The microbiome is a crucial piece of the puzzle, which has vast potential to address all of these needs.
When a gentle assessment of a patient’s stool or oral swab indicates the state of health and how the ‘personal microbial fingerprint’ is contributing to the same, it opens avenues for continuous monitoring, greater transparency, and increased patient engagement. The rising number of wellness focused start-ups that offer lifestyle and diet recommendations through personalized assessment of an individual’s microbiome are testimony to the increasing penetration of this concept not only at the business but consumer level as well.
The realization that a vaginal swab from a pregnant woman and a simple observation of its microbial diversity can provide an accurate diagnosis of pre-term birth (as early as first trimester), changes the way microbes need to be perceived. They are not another living cell in or around the human body, but a treasure trove of hidden clinical intelligence and physiological relevance with personalized signatures. Embracing this significance of the human microbiome, the pharma and consumer health industry is taking the steps to add microbiome as a modality to their diverse portfolio.
The world is now ready to transition into the first decade of the business of microbiome. This transition would not have been possible without the tremendous global effort that goes into human microbiome research. An early mover advantage can be the key differentiator for capturing the industry relevant intellectual property (IP) and associated market.
A successful early movement needs an ecosystem approach. One that brings together and nurtures various aspects of scientific inquiry, discovery and clinical research, resource management, and data and computational science. The previous decade of microbiome research created a tremendous knowledgebase, technology stack, and built a well-trained pool of skilled scientists across the globe. This collaboration between consumers, corporate and academia are integral to accelerating microbiome market penetration and future growth.