Transforming science into action: Immunity probiotic pioneer Prof Francis Chan on innovating for human health
Professor Chan Ka Leung, Francis, is the latest guest on our Nutrachampion podcast.
The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has been developing and launching probiotics products clinically studied on COVID-19 patients with his team at biotechnology firm GenieBiome – also a spin-off of CUHK’s Centre of Gut Microbiota Research.
The formulation behind the products G-NiiB Immunity Pro and G-NiiB Immunity Plus were found to have reduced plasma pro-inflammatory markers such as IL-6, MCP-1 when compared to the control group.
A significant increase in beneficial bacteria, such as actinobacteria and firmicutes, was also reported.
Although the products were launched in the thick of COVID-19, the research between them went way back to a decade ago.
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia on the podcast, Prof Chan recalled how GenieBiome was conceived – in a coffeeshop where he and his co-founder Professor Siew Chien Ng who is also from CUHK's Faculty of Medicine, wrote down the business plans on a piece of napkin.
“I have been a university academic for more than 25 years and all my life, I have been focusing on academic research, trying to do scientific discoveries.
“And then I with my co-founder of GenieBiome, Professor Siew Chien Ng one day some four five years ago asked ourselves this question: We have been doing academic research, publishing high impact scientific papers for so many years, but how can we possibly transform our impact, our knowledge, into something that can benefit a society?”
With a leap of faith, the gastrointestinal specialists were hopeful of improving human health by modulating the gut microbiome, especially since new knowledge and advancement in technology have sprung to drive research forward.
“With more knowledge and advancement in technology, we realised that if we could better understand and modulate the gut microbiome, we might be able to improve our health and even cure diseases.
“Therefore, at that time, with a leap of faith, Professor Ng and I wrote down our business plans over a piece of napkin in a coffee shop and then started our journey to embark on this entrepreneurial development.”
It has been almost three years since the company launched its products first in Hong Kong in December 2020.
Last year, the firm won the NutraIngredients-Asia Awards 2022 Probiotic Product of the Year with its product G-NiiB Immunity Plus, a synbiotic formula containing the Bifidobacterium strains as well as prebiotics GOS and XOS.
More recently, the firm also released new findings on how its SIM01 synbiotic formula could improve sleep quality, skin health, and mood.
Asked his tips on how researchers could translate science into business ventures, Prof Chan said that sometimes, making ground-breaking discoveries alone would not suffice, as the crux laid in addressing crucial needs of the society.
“This is something that I'm also learning during the entire process. In short, I believe academic research and innovations are two different things.
“When we do academic research, we often try to identify things that may add additional incremental knowledge to scientific discovery.
“But even though your discovery is very, very ground-breaking, it doesn't mean that it will offer a solution to the society.
“If you want to embark on innovation, entrepreneurship, you need to understand what society needs, what are the gaps in the society in such a way that your research should aim at finding a solution to bridge the gap for the society,” he said.
Next gen products
GenieBiome is embarking on a three-pronged approach in using microbiome science to benefit mankind.
The first of which is next-gen probiotics that improves human health beyond the area of gastrointestinal health, including areas such as eczema and mood disorders.
Second, the firm sees potential in next-gen medicines using probiotics.
“We believe ultimately, the gut bacteria microbiome will be the next frontier of medicine.
“Therefore, we are working very hard to transform these very novel bacteria into something with clear therapeutic indication. This is going to be a very long journey,” said Prof Chan.
The third area is to develop novel diagnostics, such as those for early detection of colorectal cancer, as well as prediction of the development of colorectal polyps, which are tools that the firm has already launched in the market.
Listen to the podcast to find out more.