Living Medicines Could Disrupt Pharma

The science behind the gut microbiome and its intersection with synthetic biology

Trillions in your body?!

Exactly. The microbiome comprises the community of tiny organisms, living inside a host, as well as their surroundings and genomes. These tiny organisms can be bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae, and small protists.

Eating your food? 🍔

What gut microbiota is best known for, is digestion and nutrition. They can generate nutrients from substances that are otherwise indigestible by the host.

Image credits to Kurzgesagt in a Nutshell

Controlling your thoughts? 🧠

I’m still not 100% of how true the answer to that question could be. Yet, for now, the results are impressive. Our microbiome does indeed, communicate with our brains.

Fighting disease? 🦾

Interactions between the microbiota and the host immune system are numerous, complex, and bidirectional. For example, microbes liberate short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are an important energy source for intestinal mucosa and critical for modulating immune responses and tumorigenesis in the gut.

Contaminating our dreams? 🌙

Sleep problems affect 70 million Americans. Melatonin, the hormone of sleep, when there is absence of light, is produced by the pineal gland in the brain, and then released into the bloodstream. Could our microbiome be affecting this process too?

An army of microbes

What does synthetic biology have to do with all of this? Well, synbio is the intersection between engineering and biology. It’s such a new field that no one has come up with an official definition yet. All we know, is that it is all about standardizing life.

Microscopic doctors 🦠

Fictional representation of a genetically engineered bacteria

Synlogic 🧬

Thankfully, there are already some companies in the field working to make living medicines possible. Synlogic is a Cambridge-based biotech company, that is currently in clinical trials to treat metabolic disorders. Their Synthetic Biotic™ medicines have the potential to treat a range of conditions including rare diseases, metabolic conditions, and even cancers.

  1. Design solutions: test prototypes. Cutting-edge DNA assembly, mathematical modeling, selection of an optimal microbial “chassis”
  2. Build the synthetic biotic: insert the designed genetic material into the genome of the microbe. Process development research and optimization
  3. Administer to patient: oral or injected. Use of biomarkers and bioinformatic tools to predict the response

Ginkgo x Synlogic 🤝

The way that I personally like to measure how innovations are changing the world is by knowing if there are already companies looking to bring those technologies from academia to the market.

Current gaps

During the period of research that I did, I wasn’t able to find a lot of scientific papers that demonstrated solid results in very specific topics. This is, there were a lot of reviews around the gut microbiome as a whole, but not many scientists have actually gone very deep into areas such as the relation between the microbiome and sleep.

Image credits to Grow by Ginkgo

Predictions for the future

The future is now. Two of Synlogic’s treatments are in phase 1 clinical trials. Another one has is already in phase 2. Although this company is focusing more on weird metabolic diseases at the moment, we could be seeing some other very interesting applications of this technology sooner than we think.

Ambitious teenager building innovative projects with Synthetic Biology and Artificial Intelligence

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