Could the bacteria in your gut unlock new therapies to treat the world’s deadliest diseases?

Recently I have been spending time in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, meeting early stage companies in health tech: the unique intersection of technology and biology.  One area that has piqued my interest is the study of the microbiome, and its potential to be the source of new therapies for some of the world’s deadliest diseases. The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that reside in all of us: bacteria, viruses and fungi to name a few.  There is a rich and growing body of scientific evidence that our microbiome plays a key role in regulating our immune systems, our hormones, and our metabolic systems. New, highly sensitive sequencing techniques have led to a wealth of information about the genomes of these microorganisms and how they impact our health; from the predisposition to disease, to potential new targets for drugs or other therapies.   

The leader in microbial genomics is uBiome, led by co-founders Jessica Richman and Zac Apte.  uBiome was founded about six years ago, and the company’s mission is to advance the science of the microbiome and make it useful to people.  The company offers a product called SmartGut: the world’s first sequencing-based clinical microbiome test, which identifies microbes in the gut for patients with chronic gut conditions such as Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.  Over the past few years the company has collected over 250,000 samples, and this number is expected to reach one million in 2019. This creates a very rich database and unprecedented ability, using machine learning and other advanced analytics, to identify new targets for drugs that can potentially impact disease.  

The company is taking their data and their analytics, and moving into drug discovery and development with the opening of their new therapeutics’ headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This does not involve selling their data, but rather focusing on the intellectual property derived from their deep microbiome database. Initial focus will be in oncology, autoimmune disorders, obesity, and metabolic disorders. I was so impressed with the work they are doing, I accepted their invitation to join their Board of Directors.

I find this new frontier fascinating, as it would not have been possible without that convergence of biology and technology.  We all know drug discovery and development is risky business: but with artificial intelligence and machine learning applied to a rich database, uBiome has the possibility of impacting some of the most significant diseases in the world.  


Joe Jimenez, the former CEO of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, has been appointed to uBiome’s board of directors. At Novartis, Mr. Jimenez focused on leading global businesses, while divesting non-core divisions. Under his leadership, the innovation pipeline was rejuvenated, and the company navigated the patent expirations of their two largest products. Mr. Jimenez has a track record of business leadership at several world-class companies, including Clorox, ConAgra, and H.J. Heinz. In addition to the board of directors of uBiome, he presently serves on the boards of Proctor & Gamble and General Motors.