A new study into how antibiotics affect beneficial bacteria living in human guts suggests ways in which dietary changes may reduce the medicines’ side effects and generate new treatments.

Brown University researchers, conducting a study in mice, found that changes in the animals’ diets may mitigate the effects that antibiotics have on the composition and metabolism of intestinal bacteria, also called the microbiome. The findings are a step toward helping humans tolerate antibiotics treatments, one of the scientists, Peter Belensky, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, said on Phys.org.

The gut microbiome, comprising trillions of bacteria, assists human bodies in a range of ways. These benefits include breaking down dietary fiber and helping our intestines stay healthy by ensuring cells form a tight barrier and can compete successfully for resources with harmful bacteria. Scientists have mapped the gut microbiome and identified the function of particular microbes.

The mapping has led to a surge of biotech startups developing microbiome drugs. For instance, Whole Biome, with $35 million Series B funding led by Sequoia Capital, plans to start selling a capsule that will help people with type 2 diabetes restore gut bacteria that, when missing, impairs their immune systems. The product may be on the market next year.

While the Brown study focused on antibiotics, other research has shown that the microbiome links to how cancer patients respond to chemotherapy and how how well a person sleeps.    

  • China’s Xbiome raised about $10 million in two venture funding rounds to improve its drug development platform and accelerate clinical pipelines. The company’s strategy combines machine learning, big data and gut microbiome techniques to accelerate the development process. 
  • Startup Luca Biologics, focusing on the vaginal microbiome, is developing biotherapies that may help fill some of the voids in women’s health treatments. The first drug in its pipeline will treat urinary tract infections.
  • Belensky’s lab released a study last year that was good news for vegans who love kimchi. The researchers found that kimchi made without fish products has the same type of bacteria as the more traditional kimchi, indicating that making the Korean side dish either way probably provides the same probiotics benefits.  

Karma Takeaway: As research becomes clearer on how bacteria within our bodies affects medicines, investors should expect to see more opportunities to back startups pursuing novel therapies at the microbiome level.