Project Management Institute

Proving Probiotics

Despite Uncertain Benefits, Interest in Probiotics and Microbiome Projects is Booming

Health crazes come and go. One of the latest fads? Probiotics: products with live bacteria marketed as beneficial to the digestive system and the human “microbiome”—the mini-ecosystem of microorganisms inside the human gut. Foods such as yogurt and kombucha currently dominate the probiotics market, but projects to develop microbiome therapeutic drugs are underway.

Driven mainly by food and beverage products, the global probiotics market could be worth US$64.6 billion by 2023, up from US$36.6 billion in 2015, according to a Global Markets Insights report. Asia Pacific is currently the largest market, according to Allied Market Research.

Investors understandably want in. Launched in 2013, the world's first microbiome-focused venture fund from French venture capital firm Seventure Partners accumulated €160 million in financing from investors, entrepreneurs and corporations, including yogurt maker Danone, as of December 2015.


“[W]e have the opportunity to treat a range of ailments in potentially new ways and impact the lives of patients.”

—Bernat Olle, PhD, Vedanta Biosciences, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

But the science on probiotics' efficacy remains in question. (Food industry organizations have also claimed probiotic products can boost the immune system, heal inflammatory bowel conditions and alleviate allergic disorders.) Researchers still don't fully understand the shelf life for probiotics in food or how potent they are once ingested. Different people react differently to individual bacteria depending on their health, stress levels and diet.

“The commercialization of food products is not primarily driven by science, but by volume, marketing and shelf space,” says Bernat Olle, PhD, CEO of Vedanta Biosciences, a biotech startup in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA that secured US$50 million in financing in June to advance microbiome therapeutics. Focused on how microbes interact with infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases and cancer, Dr. Olle's project teams will begin conducting clinical studies of drugs to treat infectious diseases in the first half of 2017.

Although he views probiotic food products with skepticism, Dr. Olle believes projects to develop drugs that target microbiomes could deliver big benefits.

“The potential impact on human health is huge. By modulating the microbiome with this class of drugs, we have the opportunity to treat a range of ailments in potentially new ways and impact the lives of patients.”
—Meredith Landry

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