Founded in 2019, Genefitletics currently offers three types of microbiome testing services that look at gut health, gut-vaginal health, and kids’ health – spanning from the immune system, metabolic health to brain development. These testing services are marketed as Up The Gut, Vageco, and Lill’Bio respectively.
Earlier this year, the company was shortlisted for ‘Leap to Unicorn’ – a program created by IDFC First Bank, Moneycontrol, and CNBCTV19 that provides mentoring, networking, and fundraising opportunities for promising start-ups in India.
Consumers using its microbiome testing services are required to send in their stool samples or vagina swab samples, which the company would analyse using the next-generation sequencing technology.
The data generated would then be read by the company’s bioinformatics software so as to understand the users’ gene expression of various microbiome and biological pathway scores.
“Essentially, we can tell the level of sub optimality or optimality of various biological function inside the body, because the majority of biological functions are performed by these bacteria derived from how we metabolise food, how we get nutrients, the communication with the brain, the communication of the immune system.
“By converting your biological data into pathways, we are seeing the level of either pro-inflammatory activities or anti-inflammatory activities. Each activity is mapped with various food molecules to determine what food you should be eating, what food you should not be eating, and in what quantities,” said Kumar on how the firm’s service worked.
Following which, the firm would recommend the types and quantities of food from a list of 317 items, including cereals, pulses, vegetables, beverages etc to the users.
It might also make recommendations from a list of 70 supplements and over 30 pre/probiotics, which users would need to purchase on their own from the pharmacies.
The nutrition recommendations are re-evaluated and fine-tuned twice over the course of a six-month follow-up period.
By mid-August, the company aims to provide precision probiotics products that users of its microbiome testing service could purchase.
Consumer groups targeted are Indian population in the age band of 25 to 70 years and are suffering from chronic health conditions, said Kumar.
“After the users go for a microbiome test, we will determine their deficiencies in various minerals and nutrients and then make probiotics supplements specific for them.”
The idea is to work with probiotics suppliers in India who can provide probiotics in powdered form so that the users could consume it with drinking water.
The challenge of find prebiotics or probiotics customised to an individual’s needs is what gave the firm the idea of making precision probiotics.
“Most of the probiotics in the market are multiple strains and they are in standard quantities. For instance, if I say you need Lactobacillus acidophilus at 7.5bn CFU, you wouldn’t find it in the market. Instead, you will find products that come in maybe 10 bn or 15 bn CFU products, and again, that can backfire.
“That's why we think that building our own supplements and mapping the biology and building the probiotics for them is something which will grow.”
In terms of cost, he foresees that a month’s supply would be priced at approximately US$70.
No such thing as a good or bad bacteria
Another reason for providing precision probiotics, is because there is “no such thing as a good bacteria or a bad bacteria”, Kumar said, adding that the gut microbiota diversity could be compromised if a “good bacteria” dominate the gut.
“There is no such thing as a good or bad bacteria. Even the good bacteria which may be doing good things will start doing bad things if they start dominating the gut microbiome.
“They [bacteria] are like us humans, they fight for food and space. So essentially, they may work together, or they may work against each other depending on how we're feeding them. That’s why it has to be very specific on the types of probiotic strains that you need,” he explained.
The unique network of microbiota that each individual possesses is another reason for the firm to offer precision probiotics.
Moving forward, he said that the firm would like to build its own production facility for its precision probiotics products.
India’s microbiome market still at “nascent stage”
India’s microbiome market is still at the “nascent stage” and the role of the microbiome is not yet clearly understood, Kumar observes.
“In terms of the market acceptance, it is picking up, because for the Indian market, microbiome is at a very nascent stage and something that is not clearly understood by a lot of people.
“There is a lot of education required in layman's language which they can understand, because a lot of people do not understand the technical science language.”
In fact, some believe that bacteria are all bad.
“Some people thought that bacteria are bad, some thought that some bacteria are good, but some are bad, but we do not know which is good or bad, so let's kill them all.”
Other upcoming plans
The company is also planning to launch two new products, namely an oral microbiome testing kit and human genes expression test.
It will be supporting the launch using an undisclosed amount raised at pre-money valuation of INR 7.5 crore (US$90.8k) from a group of angel investors.
The oral microbiome test will collect saliva swab samples to study the interplay between the gut and oral microbiome, said Kumar.
“The oral microbiome pre-digests food and converts it into various things which go into different parts of the body and the gut, so there exists metabolites that communicate with your other body organs and with your gut microbiome as well.
“A lot of these metabolites are set to impact your autoimmune disorders like arthritis, impact your blood pressure level, the chances of oral cancer. There is an interplay between oral and gut microbiome.”
As for the human genes expression test, he said that the aim was to study how the by-products of microbes which are released in the bloodstreams directly impacts the immune system, the production of the cytokines, and pro-inflammatory molecules.
“We are going to study how these metabolites are impacting which specific pro-inflammatory molecules, which cytokines are being released, and how they are impacting various biological functions.”
For its next round of funding, it would hope to fund clinical trials to validate the company’s microbiome tests, build human biology models to predict the onset of diseases, and even study areas such as soil microbiome.
“For instance, if I analyse your microbiome based on your biological pathways, I can determine whether you're moving away or towards a disease.
“And then I can find out why you have a disease, how quickly you will develop a disease or detect a disease if you already have, and then provide a set of interventions for foods or supplements, and even building therapeutics and specific molecular drugs to suppress the metabolites involved in the disease,” he said.
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