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Spin-Off Licensing Athletic Microbiome Technology

Runners

(Maxmann, Pixabay)

5 Sept. 2019. A company spun-off from biomedical engineering labs at Harvard University is acquiring research on microbial communities in elite athletes to create new probiotics. Financial aspects of the licensing agreement between FitBiomics Inc. in New York and Harvard’s Office of Technology Development, the university’s technology transfer office, were not disclosed.

FitBiomics isolates gut bacteria from elite athletes to identify unique microbes enabling star athletes to achieve greater performance. The five year-old company is co-founded by Jonathan Scheiman, a former research fellow at Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. The technology licensed from Harvard is based on Scheiman’s work at the Wyss Institute in sports genomics and synthetic biology.

In a paper published in June, Scheiman analyzed gut microbes from elite athletes to identify a particular bacterial strain, which in tests with lab mice boosted their exercise endurance. As reported by Science & Enterprise, the researchers — including company co-founders geneticist George Church and micro-/computational biologist Aleksander Kostic — took stool samples from elite runners taking part in the 2015 Boston Marathon from a week before to a week after the race.

The runners’ samples disclosed an abundance of bacteria known as Veillonella after the race, particularly a strain called Veillonella atypica. Veillonella is part of the normal microbiome communities in the mouth, gut, and vaginal tract. But Veillonella atypica, when isolated from the runners and transferred to lab mice, increased the mice’s exercise endurance on treadmills by 13 percent. Further genomic and computational analysis traced the Veillonella-driven performance boost to the bacteria’s ability to break down lactate, a metabolite known to accumulate with prolonged strenuous exercise, and to produce propionate, a short-chain fatty acid, that in turn enhances the body’s resilience to exercise stress.

Scheiman says FitBiomics is building on these results to synthesize and produce probiotics that enhance athletic endurance, as well as speed and strength. “Ultimately,” notes Scheiman in a Wyss Institute statement, “FitBiomics aims to mine the biology of the most fit and healthy people in the world, then translate that information into consumer products to promote health and wellness to the masses.”

Church adds that this strategy is different from most other research and development involving the microbiome that focuses on treatments for disease. “We took a complementary and opposite approach,” says Church, “in aiming to identify bacterial species that actively enhance specific physiologies, and that in the longer term could help build a powerful collection of probiotic and nutritional strategies that may not only improve athletic performances but also general health, resilience, and longevity.”

Church is a serial entrepreneur, founding or licensing discoveries from his labs to dozens of start-up and spin-off enterprises, including FitBiomics. For Scheiman, athletic performance is more than, literally, a spectator sport. He played college basketball at St. John’s University in New York, on teams that won the Big East conference championship in 2000 and post-season National Invitational Tournament in 2003.

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