Bill Gates-backed probiotic firm Evolve BioSystems makes APAC debut with Singapore, Hong Kong launch

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

The product comes in boxes of 20 powder sachets each, contains solely lactose and B. infantis EVC001, and should be mixed into breastmilk and immediately fed to the baby.
The product comes in boxes of 20 powder sachets each, contains solely lactose and B. infantis EVC001, and should be mixed into breastmilk and immediately fed to the baby.

Related tags Probiotics Infant nutrition

US-based microbiome firm Evolve BioSystems have entered the APAC market with its flagship consumer probiotic for newborns, Evivo, which has launched in Singapore and Hong Kong.

The product is available in the Evivo web store, and is shipped directly from the US to either Singapore or Hong Kong within three to four days of the order being placed.

This launch is the result of the US$40m Series C funding the company received in June 2018, which was co-led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Horizons Ventures, the investment division of the Li Ka Shing Foundation.

Bacterial benefits

Evivo is an activated form of Bifidobacteria longum​, sub-species infantis. B. infantis ​originates from the mother's gut, and babies obtain it from just outside the birth canal when they are born.

Evolve BioSystems CEO Tim Brown told NutraIngredients-Asia​: "Unfortunately, most babies in the developed world no longer acquire B. infantis because their mothers don't have it. There has been a loss of this bacteria in the developed world over the past 100 years.

"We can actually follow that loss by looking at the pH of the infant gut as reported in scientific literature. Over the past century, the pH of the breastfed infant's gut has increased from five — which is typical when a baby has B. infantis — to over six.

"With that comes an abundance of pathogens like E. coli, Clostridia, Staphylococcus and Streptococcus, which are associated with autoimmune conditions common in developed nations, including asthma, allergies, colic, eczema and type 1 diabetes."

In addition to this, Evolve BioSystems' founders discovered that B. infantis​ was the only bacteria capable of consuming the third most abundant component in breastmilk after sugars and fats: human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs).

Brown said: "For a long time, scientists weren't sure of HMOs' purpose, as babies could not digest them. In trying to figure out why breastmilk had this significant yet indigestible component, they screened hundreds of bacteria individually to figure out which grew within HMOs, and they found the only one that did so was B. infantis."

He added that according to the firm's "landmark clinical study"​ on B. infantis ​Evolve BioSystems had conducted, the bacteria would metabolise HMOs into lactate and acetate, which babies could digest.

These nutrients enhance neural cells and lower the pH of the gut, therefore inhibiting the growth of pathogens like E. coli​, Clostridia​, Staphylococcus ​and Streptococcus​.

"We found that within three days of feeding babies our probiotic, the relative abundance of B. infantis grew to 85%. This contrasted with Lactobacillus and even other Bifidobacteria species, of which there would be a relative abundance that was just a tiny fraction of what we'd observed with B. infantis.

"For instance, the relative abundance of Lactobacilli would never be more than a few percentage points, and would have to be taken every day to maintain colonisation.

"But even after a month of stopping the intake of B. infantis, the gut of the babies in our studies stayed well colonised as long as their mothers continued breastfeeding them."

This, he said, made Evivo the first and only product to have shown ‘substantial, persistent and beneficial’ remodelling of the gut.

Brown also noted that the product was meant for breastfed babies, as B. infantis ​utilises HMOs to establish themselves and colonise the gut.

He further emphasised that it was crucial for babies to receive B. infantis​ during the first 100 days of life, as it was then that their immune systems and metabolism were being 'programmed'; gut dysbiosis during this time would lead to a higher risk of 'misprogramming'.

Cold confidence

After first launching Evivo in July 2017 in the US, Brown said the product has experienced 'rapid growth' and received positive consumer feedback.

The product, which comes in boxes of 20 powder sachets each, contains solely lactose and B. infantis ​EVC001, and is free from gluten, additives and artificial flavours, colours and preservatives.

It also requires constant refrigeration due to B. infantis​ being 'finicky', Brown said.

"It's evolved for millions of years in a specific environment, and when removed from that environment, it's difficult to keep alive. We solved that through stabilising it and keeping it cold."

According to Evivo's website, one sachet a day is all a baby needs — the powder is to be mixed into breastmilk, and the mixture immediately fed to the baby.

It is available in Evivo's web store and on Amazon, and is delivered directly to consumers through cold-chain distribution.

Brown said, "Our launch in Hong Kong and Singapore is the first major step in bringing our product to Asian consumers. These two markets represent an important geography for us as they are thought leaders in East and South East Asia, so we wanted to start there.

"As it is in the US, the product is available to consumers in Singapore and Hong Kong via our website. We ship directly from the US, and so far, customers in both countries have received it within three or four days of placing their orders.

"More importantly, it's still cool by the time it gets there, so we are confident it arrives in a good state for consumption."

While there are no plans at the moment for Evivo to enter any direct retail sales channel in Asia, Evolve BioSystems is considering that course of action.

At the same time, the firm wants to grow its presence in Asia, particularly in China, but has not yet planned a timeline for this expansion.

Brown said, "We also plan to expand the Evivo line of products wherever the brand is available, focusing solely on infant nutrition. Much work is going on to help us continue to build our understanding of the effect Evivo has on babies."

Stretching the science

Presently, Evivo is involved in a trial with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh (icddr,b), funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The trial will assess Evivo's impact on infants who have been diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition (SAM), and non-malnourished infants hospitalised for infections; all the infants are below six months of age.

The researchers also intend to determine if they can replace the children’s missing microbiome components in a stable manner, so as to stimulate healthy growth and resistance to infection.

Brown said: "In Asia, we've had very productive discussions with a couple of hospitals in Hong Kong about doing studies with babies born there.

"We've also met with some physicians at key hospitals in Singapore, but at present, we can't reveal any specific clinical plans."

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