The Next Frontier in Medicine Lies in Our Gut

There’s a great deal of promise within the gut microbiome.

Bacteria Cells with selective focus.

As of 2015, there were 3.1 million diagnosed cases of IBD in the U.S. (Getty Images)

 

Does the solution to solving diseases in the future currently live inside our gut? The gut microbiome represents an exciting and promising opportunity to drive disruptive change in the future of the health care industry. Made up of trillions of bacteria that support overall human health, our gut microbiome represents the new frontier in medicine which, once unlocked, has the potential to treat or cure endless health issues. In fact, I believe it holds promise akin to how immunotherapy represents new hope in treating cancer.

Experts suggest the microbiome affects our bodies from the time we’re born, exerting a powerful influence on key biological processes such as digestion, the immune system and the central nervous system, and consequently, can also contribute to disease. Further, research has shown that an imbalance of unhealthy and healthy microbes inside the gut may contribute to weight gain, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and other disorders associated with many health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.

Is modern medicine about finding the underlying cause of disease and treating it at the source within the gut? I think so. To gain further insights, I attended the North American Microbiome Congress in February, which featured many of the world’s leading researchers and thought leaders in the microbiome space. Among some of the highlights, researchers discussed the emerging connection between the gut microbiome and overall health. Notably, there were two key insights that I found particularly interesting.

First, the growth in microbiome-related research will come from areas where current treatments fall short, or from those diseases where no treatments exist, and therefore provide even more opportunity for research in an uncrowded market with unmet needs.

Second, with a focus on safety and efficacy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been very supportive of pharmaceutical companies in the development of microbiome therapies in clinical trials, making studying microbiomes in various patient populations even more feasible.

What’s our opportunity? Current statistics around obesity, diabetes and IBD demonstrate significant unmet needs, and in some cases, global epidemics that are quickly growing out of control, while costing the health care system billions of dollars. Consider that 38 percent of U.S. adults are obese. Diabetes affects 30 million people and kills someone every six seconds. As of 2015, there were 3.1 million diagnosed cases of IBD in the U.S.

When you look further, these diseases place a serious economic burden on our health care system and communities. Trust for America’s Health determined that the U.S. could save upwards of $600 billion over the next 20 years if we reduced obesity rates by only 5 percent. Further, the American Journal of Managed Care reports estimates of direct and indirect costs of IBD ranging between $14.6 and $31.6 billion in 2014.

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