Probiota Asia 2019

Lack of causal understanding limits gut-microbiome application in personalised nutrition - analyst

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Analyst from Lux Research pointed out that the lack of causal understanding has limited gut-microbiome applications in personalised nutrition. ©Getty Images
Analyst from Lux Research pointed out that the lack of causal understanding has limited gut-microbiome applications in personalised nutrition. ©Getty Images

Related tags Gut microbiome probiotics personalised nutrition

Firms offering personalised nutrition solutions are increasingly focusing on the microbiome, but there are still a number of limitations that needs to be overcome.

This was a key point made by Thomas Hayes, an analyst at Lux Research. He was addressing the topic “An opportunity in the shifting healthcare paradigm: The interplay among nutrition, microbiomes, and disease” at our Probiota Asia Summit in Shanghai.

He said that at present, personalised nutrition solutions were assessing health based on a variety of determinants, including physical traits, lifestyle, biomarkers, genetics, and microbiome.

The spotlight on microbiome is due to “increasing data which shows the link between gut microbiome and diet-related diseases”,​ he said.

However, he cautioned that the amount of research and data on gut-microbiome was still in early days. This is because the understanding of gut-microbiome and the overall state of health is still “at a stage of correlative, not causal, understanding.”

For example, in the case of type II diabetes, the associated microbial alteration can be seen in the elevated levels of bacteroidetes and the reduction in firmicutes.

Moreover, most of the business partnerships focusing on personalised nutrition seen in APAC do not assess health state based on gut-microbiome.

For instance, Nestle Japan’s partnership with Halmek Ventures and Genesis Healthcare​ are based on DNA and blood tests examination.

DSM’s partnership with DeNA Life Science of Japan​ is also based on DNA test.

Nonetheless, he said that the lack of market activity involving gut-microbiome “only signalled the immaturity of the space.”

Case studies: DayTwo and iCarbonX

Two start-ups which provide personalised nutrition based on gut-microbiome data, DayTwo from Israel and iCarbonX from China, were cited for an analysis of their pros and cons.

Hayes said that while both had witnessed major milestones, the data from their studies came from a relatively limited population size within the range of 750 (iCarbonX) to about 1250 (DayTwo). 

In the case of DayTwo, the company offers a microbiome analysis-based application that outlines the foods that users should consume or avoid in order to normalise their blood glucose levels.

Since it started in 2015 with a funding of $48m, it has since gained tens of thousands of users and formed sales network comprising of hundreds over clinicians.

However, aside from a limited study size, type II diabetics – the user base that the firm is targeting – do not form the bulk of their study cohorts, said hayes.

As for iCarbonX, it provides consumer health management platform that uses healthcare and AI technologies to aggregate data, including microbiome analysis, to provide insights.

Also founded in 2015, it is backed by a $200m funding and has since reaped millions of dollars in revenue. Adding to its list of milestones is the research partnership formed with state-owned China Oil and Food Corporation (COFCO).

Similarly, study cohort did not largely mirror its user base, he added.

Hayes said that his company had thus adopted a “wait and see”​ attitude to the future prospects of the two firms.

Reducing cost for consumers   

Cost of personalised nutrition is still the biggest hurdle in spreading its use amongst consumers.

While price-points have dropped over the years, Hayes pointed out that the fees were still in the range of over US$100.

Citing the success stories of Omada Health, a San Francisco-based firm which offered health program for diabetes prevention, he said that one way forward was value-based pricing.

It is a revenue generation scheme that is solely dependent on the effectiveness of the solutions provided. Specifically, the pricing is based on the percentage of weight loss seen in users.

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