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Pfizer, Second Genome to Partner on Human Microbes, Obesity

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2 May 2014. Second Genome, a biotechnology company in South San Francisco, California, and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. are conducting a large-scale study to better understand the relationship among gut microbes, obesity, and metabolic disorders, such as diabetes. Financial and intellectual property aspects of the collaboration were not disclosed.

Second Genome develops therapies affecting microbes residing in human organs and cavities, including the mouth, skin, and gut. The company’s research focuses on genetics of these microbes — which the company says outnumbers human genes by a margin of 100-to-1 — and their interactions with human genes, as well as with each other. This genetic population makes up the “second genome” where the company gets its name.

The basic research underlying the company’s technology was conducted by biologist Gary Andersen of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a co-founder of Second Genome. Andersen continues as a scientific advisor to the company.

The study with Pfizer will investigate metabolic traits of 900 individuals assembled by Paul Huang, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, called the Cardiology and Metabolic Patient cohort. The researchers will associate these traits to variations in microbial activity, as well as conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

A growing number of findings point to changes in gut microbes as key factors behind the rise in obesity and diabetes worldwide. Studies that transplant healthy microbiomes through fecal matter indicate the introduction of specific microbes can influence an individual’s weight and potential for developing diabetes.

Second Genome is a participant in a similar undertaking, the American Gut project that collects samples of gut, skin, and mouth microbes for a crowdsourced study of the collective American microbiome. Second Genome is sponsoring specimen collections in that study.

In June 2013, Janssen Biotech, a division of Johnson & Johnson, and Second Genome agreed to conduct joint research on the role of gut microbes on ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease. The company is also a founder and host of the Greengenes Consortium with the University of Colorado and the University of Queensland in Australia to provide an online resource of microbial genetic sequences for drug discovery.

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