Musings from the Future of the Microbiome – Winter 2021 Summit

We’re excited about the prospects for the microbiome to dramatically alter how we think about and approach health and wellness on both a personal and population basis in the near and mid-term future. Our team here at Industry Transparency Center therefore decided to double down on our coverage and exploration into this emerging area by hosting the Winter Edition of the Future of the Microbiome Summit December 7-9, 2021. You can register for the On Demand here if you missed the live event.

For those that have become used to my musings and takeaways at industry events and conferences, here goes:

We’ll start with a quick recap.

Day 1 started with a couple of presentations involving emerging prebiotic strategies and an examination of fermentation dynamics and metabolic pathways with an intention of investigating, predicting, and designing smart or ‘precision’ prebiotics. This session really struck home, because of our recent Global Prebiotic Association intense discussion of the applicability (or not) of the term ‘selective’ in the ISAPP definition of a prebiotic–our decision as GPA was to eliminate that word, at least currently, from the definition. It seems that a keen area the science is taking us is into is that precision rather than broad-spectrum space, and that perhaps there is a time in the not-too-distant future where we can sub-classify, precision and non, terming the former next generation. In fact, that theme of targeting and precision was probably a dominant one for the three days, even giving rise to a robust discussion around the implications of precision for personalization and for formulating with smaller yet highly efficacious doses. Along the way on day 1 we also talked about the possible benefits of preparing and presenting a fermentability index as a tool for research and product development.

Also on day 1, we discussed the impact of a plant-based and meat alternative diet on the microbiome, again discussing fermentation impact (watch that space as flexitarian rather than meat forward diets proliferate). From the Weizmann Institute in Israel, Eran Segal, a global expert in computational and quantitative biology discussed new work he is doing with implications for personalization, diabetes care, and atopic dermatitis. We also had a presentation that took us into the lung and other microbiota (again, watch that space), and finished the day discussing the connection between science and messaging, including appropriate and credible scientific rigor.

Day 2 began with a presentation about psychobiotics and the gut-brain axis, followed by a few presentations on measuring the microbiome, from pre-clinical all the way to commercial applications. Again, the dominant and consistent theme emerging was precision-otics. Commercial challenges discussed included the cost of testing and the need for longitudinal models and programs. Day 2 concluded with two deep presentations – one of which examined novel technology that included the use of blood-based markers as predictors of health condition with specific implications for public health policy and testing. The concluding presentation that day was on confounders in microbiota research and triggered a robust discussion on the practicality and responsibility to incorporate a structured examination of confounders as a research inclusion. While this presentation was specific to the microbiota, it well illustrated the challenges of over or under-interpreting research, especially in the case of meta-analyses where there might be different confounders.

The first two days set the stage well for Day 3 which included consumer insights from a variety of geographies showing the overall awareness of probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, and even postbiotics – results that were then challenged when survey respondents were asked to pick out the correct definition of each, with a gradual trailing off from probiotics to prebiotics to synbiotics and then postbiotics. These results confirm that for all, consumers are not exactly where we think they are and much more education is needed. One confirmation that did stand out was that the association with all of these categories goes much deeper than gut health and digestion and even immunity.

The day progressed into an examination of the potential misuse or misrepresentation of scientific and survey data – in research but especially beyond as it is picked up by the media with often distorted coverage. Again, this finding goes much broader than microbiome-related research, but in that complicated space, the potential for misuse is significant. Following up, the day discussed the importance again of microbiome-related products to other health states and implications for global health outcomes before finishing up with a session on consumer messaging with case studies.

Overall, the 3 days successfully presented topics that mixed science, health policy, and product development, touching on diagnostics, personalization and broader research implications.

My major take-aways:

  • Precision, precision, precision, especially in the world of prebiotics
  • We may finally be on track towards effective, viable, cost-effective approaches to personalization
  • Are we reaching the stage where we have too many ‘otics’ after ‘post’ and even ‘psycho’?
  • Messaging in the future will need to at least consider the concept of a ‘healthy microbiota’
  • Especially in nutrition science where lifestyle and other demographic and psychographic variables can impact outcomes, we need to deeply investigate potential confounders
  • Public health and health policy is yet another way where the microbiome as a vehicle/platform/tool can impact the future of human health

The sessions are all available On Demand here and stay tuned for more Future of the Microbiome programming through 2022.