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A snapshot of Microbiotica

PME talks to CEO Mike Romanos

Mike Romanos

In this month’s issue of PME, we take an in-depth look at Microbiotica and talk to CEO Mike Romanos about the company’s technologies and the obstacles it faces in the biotech sector.

Cambridge, UK-based Microbiotica is part of a new wave of pioneering firms focused on developing novel therapeutics based on the microbiome – the bacteria which live in the human body and whose role in regulating health is only now becoming better understood.

What is the central focus of Microbiotica’s research?

We are focused on the microbiome, which are trillions of resident microbes, mainly bacteria, in our gut. It is clear that many diseases in every part of our body, not just the gut, are caused by an imbalance in a healthy microbiome and can be corrected by readjusting the microbial balance to a healthy one.

An area of high interest is the discovery that responses to cancer immunotherapy are dependent on gut bacteria. This represents a new branch of biology that will revolutionise medicine.

How is Microbiotica advancing life sciences with its technology?

Microbiotica is a leading expert in the microbiome and is using its technology to identify the good and bad microbiomes in patients. The company can then use this information to produce oral medication that contains live bacteria. This approach has the potential to deliver novel medications that can address the underlying cause of disease with few or no side effects.

What makes the company’s technologies stand out in a crowded field?

Microbiotica’s capability is founded on ground- breaking research from ten years of investment in the microbiome at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Trevor Lawley, our chief scientific officer, led the group which addressed several fundamental barriers to exploring this field, including being able to isolate all the bacteria and thus being able to create a database of reference genomes.

These technologies have been enhanced and industrialised by Microbiotica, which now has the world’s leading capabilities in these areas. These capabilities attract collaborations with leading groups from around the world to provide the clinical data and samples to feed the process, including a University of Adelaide ulcerative colitis FMT study. There is also a $534m collaboration with Roche’s Genentech and an investment from Paris-based microbiome specialist VC Seventure.

Why will Microbiotica make it in the high-risk, highly competitive biotech field?

The company has a combination of leading science and platform and highly experienced biotech/ pharma management. Our platform and products are highly differentiated.

What are the R&D obstacles that the company is currently facing?

The biggest R&D obstacle is in manufacturing the products. In the first instance we will use contract manufacturers rather than establishing our own facility, and there is a limited number of CMOs in the world who can do this work, with none in the UK.

What are the practical business issues the company is facing?

The biggest recent issue for us has been space. In two-and-a-half years we have built an organisation of over 35 people with all the key disciplines and have outgrown our space at the Wellcome Genome Campus. Lab space in Cambridge is at a premium and we have been constrained as we grow.

What impact will Brexit have on the business?

A very large proportion of our staff are continental EU citizens and it has been a major recruitment source. As a result, our ability to hire key talent from Northern Europe has been affected.

Of greater concern is the university sector – the UK biotech sector is what it is because of the increasing excellence of the university sector over the last 20 years. At Cambridge University, 25% of its staff are continental EU citizens. The UK’s pre-eminent scientific position is due in large part to the single market and free movement. We know this has had an impact.

Microbiotica has generated therapeutic products comprising multiple isolated gut bacteria as treatment for C difficile, ulcerative colitis and cancer. These products are undergoing testing and are set to be in the clinic in the next few years.

25th November 2019

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