Korean biotechnology companies are stepping up efforts to make a foray into the microbiome market. They are pushing to develop products that use microbes in the body to treat various diseases.
The microbiome market is regarded as the next battlefield for biotechnology firms and pharmaceutical companies. As major countries are still in the early stage of developing new drugs using microbiome, domestic companies have a chance to establish a solid presence in the emerging market.
The Korean Microbiome Association opened the Human Microbiome Center, which is a microbiome research institute, in Goyang City, Gyeonggi Province, last month.
In June last year, Bio Eleven, a probiotics-specializing company, established Gold Biome, Asia's first fecal bank. Like a blood bank or a sperm bank, a fecal bank stores healthy people's feces and provides them to patients, who need feces transplant surgery. Although it has been only one year since the bank was established, there have been 30 cases of feces transplant surgery on pseudomembranous colitis patients.
Existing bio-venture companies are rushing to enter the microbiome business. Chunlab has established a research institute jointly with Ildong Pharmaceutical to systematically research microbiome, while Genofocus stared clinical trials, aiming to develop microbiome-based new drugs. Genome & Company has started developing obesity and diabetes medicine using microbiome, and Bifido is developing new drugs for rheumatoid arthritis.
Microbiome is a word made from a combination of “microbe” and “biome,” referring to microorganismal genetic information in the human body. There are about 100 trillion microorganisms in the body of a healthy adult, and among those, over 4,000 species are known. About 95% of these microorganisms live in the digestive system, such as stomach and intestine. Various types of microorganisms also live in the mouth and skin as well.
Although cellular genes cannot be artificially modified, body microorganisms can be changed without limitations. Yet, modern medical science has not yet found out the exact functions carried out by microorganisms, and this is why microorganisms are called to be the main resource for next-generation drug development.
Microbiome has been receiving attention because studies show that major incurable diseases are closely related to the distribution of microorganisms in the body. In the body of a healthy person, 85% of the bacteria are beneficial while 15% are harmful. They are in a symbiotic relationship. However, patients suffering from autoimmune diseases have a broken balance, where there is a much higher proportion of harmful bacteria with fewer number of total microorganisms. This suggests that how one manages and maintains microorganisms inside the body can be a key to the treatment of diseases.
Major advanced countries, including US and Europe, have been focusing on microbiome from early on and supporting the research, but they have not yet led succeeded in development of new drugs. As of now, we are in a stage, where feces transplant surgery is only allowed to patients with pseudomembranous colitis, a type of enteritis caused by abusive use of antibiotics. However, recent studies have shown that autoimmune diseases, such as atopic dermatitis, Crohn's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, are directly related to the body's microorganisms, leading microbiome to be an emerging next-generation battleground for the development of new drugs.