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Today’s promising science is tomorrow’s health solution

The Microbiome: Today’s Promising Science, Tomorrow’s Health Solutions


This year marks the third decade in the advancement of microbiome science, a decade in which we hope to see come to fruition its full potential in impacting human health. Over the past two decades, we saw microbiome science emerge in academic research, biotech and pharma, and aggregate substantial support from venture capitalists with an estimated more than $5 billion invested since 2014.

Some pioneers of the microbiome industry are now very close to reading out pivotal trials, which aim to validate the efficacy of “bugs as drugs” therapies for recurrent C. diff infections. While progress is somewhat slower than once anticipated, clinical results in other disease areas will likely follow fast. In the spotlight for 2020 are clinical results in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and oncology coming from a number of companies. That makes the next 6 to 12 months a particularly exciting time for the microbiome field, which may turn out to be an inflection point.

In the meantime, much effort has been spent identifying and dissecting the mechanisms of the microbiome to better understand host-microbe interactions, resulting in several alternative ways in which the microbiome is targeted, including the use of small molecules, biologics, phage and engineered bacteria.

At the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, we have been focused on advancing a bold vision in targeting the microbiome to impact diseases, achieving several important milestones along the way. In 2015, we signed a license agreement with Vedanta Biosciences to develop a live biotherapeutic product for IBD. In 2017, we announced a collaboration with DayTwo Ltd. and the Weizmann Institute of Science to pursue microbiome-based health solutions targeting metabolic disorders. And in 2019, we entered into an exclusive collaboration and license agreement with Locus Biosciences Inc. to create an engineered bacteriophage in an effort to combat major respiratory pathogens and to treat conditions associated with microbiome dysbiosis. Updates on some of these efforts are anticipated later this year. In addition, throughout this time, our JLABS network has helped to incubate 35 unique startups in hotspots all around the world, fostering the development of microbiome-based health and wellness solutions. 

Exploring a potential key to a world without disease

We now know that the microbiome could be a major contributor to many aspects of our wellbeing – not only in gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, but in various types of cancer, neurologic diseases, metabolic conditions and more. Janssen continues to see the exciting potential of the microbiome in combatting disease and maintaining health, which is why we continue to boldly press forward, keeping collaboration and partnership as a tenet of our scientific strategy.

And we are thinking beyond treatment by harnessing the microbiome’s innate and unique properties. We believe that it often plays a role closer to the root cause of complex diseases than traditional targets. In addition, several clinical studies of live bacterial therapeutics have shown that microbiome-based solutions may have a favorable safety profile. Taken together, this creates the potential for solutions that could play a disruptive role in disease – through interception or prevention – and open a new frontier for medicine and maintaining health.

Janssen’s Microbiome Solutions group, part of the World Without Disease Accelerator (WWDA), is working to turn the microbiome’s complexity into health solutions that address the root cause of disease across several priority areas for which there is high unmet medical need and the potential for interception solutions. This includes colorectal and lung cancers, and early childhood diseases.

To that end, we recently initiated strategic partnerships to advance microbiome science in infant and childhood health. This includes a collaboration with Kaleido Biosciences to explore the potential of their Microbiome Metabolic Therapies (MMT™) to prevent the onset of childhood conditions, such as allergy and other atopic, immune and metabolic diseases. In addition, together with Evolve Biosystems, we are initiating a clinical trial to evaluate the potential effect of Evolve’s probiotic product in children at risk for development of atopic dermatitis.

We are thrilled with these new strategic partnerships as we continue to contribute to the microbiome ecosystem and its exciting potential in human health.