Since the late 17th century, our society has been learning about bacteria and how they affect our bodies. But it wasn’t until recently that we have become more aware of the true potential impacts of coexisting with trillions of microbes. The microbiome of a human body is diverse and facilitates both positives and negative interactions, in the latter case mostly related to the occurrence of severe diseases, be it allergies, infections, diabetes, or cancer. 

There might be as many microbial as human cells in our bodies – so their impact on our health is fundamental. A growing number of companies are conducting research to uncover how our microbiome interacts with our health. The achievements show promising results, ranging from new cures or prevention of diseases altogether. We’ve picked out the top leaders unlocking the power of the microbiome across a range of areas.

Chinese authorities recently approved a novel drug developed by Shanghai Green Valley Pharmaceuticals that is claimed to improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The drug, derived from a marine algae, is the first new Alzheimer’s drug to reach the market anywhere in the world in 20 years, and is suggested to reduce neuroinflammation by modulating a person’s gut microbiome.

While further studies would be required to meet the requirements of US and European approval agencies, the work indicates that microbiome modulation may be an effective way to counter the neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Fitbiomics is focused on athletic performance and recovery. The company’s approach is based on research findings that suggest elite athletes harbor higher numbers of certain types of bacteria in their gut microbiomes that support or perhaps drive optimal levels of performance and recovery. Fitbiomics is sequencing the microbiome of elite athletes to identify and isolate novel probiotic bacteria which could then potentially be used to improve athletic performance and health more widely. The company is using technology licensed from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

ZBiotics, a biotechnology startup, has engineered a probiotic to produce an enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. This enzyme breaks down acetaldehyde, which is an intermediate in alcohol metabolism in humans. The company incorporates this probiotic bacteria into a functional beverage which it says can help you feel better after drinking alcohol.

Axial Biotherapeutics is a clinical stage biotechnology company pioneering novel science focused on the interaction between the brain and the gut to mitigate the causes and symptoms of central nervous system and other gut-derived diseases. The company has built a pipeline of novel small-molecules and live biotherapeutics with lead programs to address patient needs associated with Parkinson’s Disease and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Azitra is a company investigating the skin microbiome in order to advance the treatment of skin disease. It commercially engineers the Staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria, whose direct application on the skin can improve appearance, hydration, and healing. These bacteria also create effective therapy methods for conditions such as the Netherton syndrome, which is tied to the lack of proteins in the skin. Likewise, it can be used to treat such conditions as skin rashes caused by cancer therapy.

Persephone Biome is building on research that has demonstrated bacteria in the gut appear to influence the effectiveness of drugs that help the immune system fight cancer. In effect, cancer drugs can work better or worse depending on the bacteria in a person’s gut. The company therefore aims to develop live biotherapeutics that promote a healthy microbiome that can improve the efficacy of immunotherapy.

EnteroBiotix is developing novel medical products to restore health and prevent diseases. Specifically, it focuses on drug-resistant bacterial infections by developing microbiome modulating drugs composed of bacterial communities derived directly from the healthy human gastrointestinal tract.

Biomillenia has developed a proprietary technology platform that is able to isolate strains of beneficial microbes based on their functional traits at unprecedented speeds and volumes. The company’s core strategy is to incorporate these smart microbes or compounds into consumer or therapeutic products. These can be used to address microbial imbalance for skin, immune and digestive health, and the health of a mother and her infant. 

These companies prove that the state of our microbiome often reflects the state of our health. But what’s more they provide guidance on how to manipulate it in order to prevent diseases, cure even chronic conditions, prevent adverse effects of drugs, or drive our top physical performance. The diverse approaches and applications show that while the microbiome field has not yet reached its full potential, it may be a significant route to improving our health and wellbeing.