Verb Biotics: Next Generation ‘Precision Biotics’ Will Deliver ‘Measurable Effects Consumers Can Feel’

Gut microbiome

Microbiome health startup Verb Biotics is preparing to launch its first products in the first quarter of 2024, two and a half years after being spun off from synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks.

Launched in September 2021 with $30 million in funding from Viking Global Investors and Cascade Investment, Verb Biotics designs precision biotics for foods and supplements with measurable effects that consumers can feel.

While there is no shortage of “biotics” targeting immunity and digestive health, Verb is looking into a broader range of health areas and developing probiotics, postbiotics and synbiotics to support stress and mood, metabolic health, satiety, sports recovery and women’s health, CEO Todd Beckman told AgFunderNews (AFN) at the SynBioBeta conference in California last month.

“There are limited applications for most probiotics, as they are not stable and are still primarily focused on immunity and digestive health,” said Beckman, who spent 13 years building the consumer probiotic brand. Goodbelly before becoming a strategic advisor to Gingko. “But consumers are looking for something more…they’re looking for how can I sleep better, how can I feel less stress?”

Most companies in the space start with an organism and then study it to determine potential health benefits, he said. Verb Biotics turns that upside down.

We are very intentional and mechanistic, so we come first for function and are not tied to any flagship organism or strain,” Beckman explained. We start with a health cue in mind, try to understand the mechanisms of action to imply that health condition, then we find the microbes and develop biotic solutions to achieve that health outcome.

“We have a non-GM platform and a GM platform”

Working with Ginkgo, Verb Biotics screens for millions of microbial strains to find candidates that naturally have hidden gems in metabolite production or the characteristics we’re looking for, Beckman said.

It is also developing synthetic biology approaches whereby it can write metabolic pathways in microbes to enable the production of target metabolites, he said.

We have a non-GM platform and a GM platform. With GM, we will only use molecules and genes that are already in humans or have been in humans in the past. For example, as we’ve evolved, we’ve lost many genes due to changes in our microbiome. So as we distribute GM, it’s about taking those genes that were already in humans and then putting them in a safe GRAS [Generally Recognized as Safe] microorganisms.

Because our microbiome has changed over time, there may be genes missing from our microbiome that limit what we can digest, for example, so someone might benefit from acai berries, but someone else might not be able to absorb those nutrients. .

“So maybe we could replenish some of those important genes that help us digest food better, help us stay healthier, help us maybe live longer. But where we use GMOs, we have to be safe, we have to be transparent, and it must have already been in humans.

Gut microbiome
Image: istock/Oleksandra Troian

WHAT ARE PROBIOTICS?According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate quantities, confer a health benefit to the host. The benefits of these “good bacteria” are strain-specific.

WHAT ARE PREBIOTICS?According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), a prebiotic is: a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit.

Prebiotics are fermented in the large intestine, serving as food for beneficial microbes already living in the colon or elsewhere in the body, and producing beneficial compounds such as short-chain fatty acids. Examples include fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and oligofructose (OF) from chicory roots; galactooligosaccharides (GOS) from milk sugar; xylooligosaccharides (XOS) from sugar beets; human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) in breast milk; and resistant starches found in potatoes, unripe bananas and Jerusalem artichokes.

WHAT ARE SYMBIOTICS? A mix of prebiotics and probiotics beneficial to the host (read the ISAPP definition here).

WHAT ARE POSTBIOTICS? Declaration of Consent by ISAPP defines postbiotics as a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confer benefits on the health of the host. Examples include EpiCor, Cargill’s heat- and pH-stable yeast fermenter made with a proprietary strain of baker’s yeast; and ADM’s HT-BPL1, a heat-treated version of its BPL1 probiotic that can be used in a wide variety of food and beverage applications.

Targeted delivery and “bouquet” of metabolites

Verb Biotics is working on more products for the food and supplement industries, including probiotics, postbiotics, and synbiotics (combinations of prebiotics and probiotics), Beckman said.

“We’re also looking at stacking metabolites into what we call bouquets,” as what works for me may not work for you, as everyone’s microbiome is a little different. So if we have metabolites that are important to say stress and mood, stacking several of them could provide a clinical effect across the larger population.”

When asked about the first two products, he said: “We are currently in preclinical trials. We will begin two human clinical trials over the summer with a goal of completion in the first quarter of 2024. All studies will be peer-reviewed with the ultimate goal of being published in reputable journals and all products and ingredients will be GRAS . We do not foresee any problems with achieving GRAS on products launched in Q1 2024.”

The first product launched in Q1 2024 will be a postbiotic focused on delivering key nutrients to key bacteria with the idea of ​​producing important short-chain fatty acids,” Beckman said. gut and digestive system. More than one mechanism of action will be provided within this product, with the goal of providing fundamental improvements. We will have more details on specific claims once the studies are complete.”

Unlike probiotics, which are live microbes, postbiotics are inert and can therefore be used in a wider variety of products that do not need refrigeration or special processing conditions to maintain their viability, making them attractive to food formulators and drinks, he noted.

The second product will be a probiotic focused on stress and mood.

According to Beckman: Our probiotics are developed to deliver payloads to the right place at the right time. So think of sleep and melatonin as an example. You want melatonin delivered to the right place in your gut in the right amount for the right amount of time to help you sleep better.

The Verb Biotics team
Verb Biotics currently has 11 full-time employees. From left to right: Todd Beckman (CEO), Camille Delebecque (SVP and Head of Biotechnology), Peggy Steele (Chief Commercial Officer), Noah Zimmerman (Chief Science and Technology Officer). Image Credit: Biotic Verb

“It’s really important that consumers feel the effects”

More generally, he said, are we trying to figure out how can we get to market faster? How can we leverage clinical trials to be faster, more efficient, to get to market faster? As we are in the consumer space, it is really important that consumers feel the effects, so we will deliver highly effective, clinically backed products.

The lack of specificity in probiotic marketing, with brands genetically speaking “probiotics” or simply listing the genus and species on the packaging, even though the benefits are strain-specific, has also led to consumer confusion and mistrust, he said. .

“Another thing that has happened over time is that many marketers have become quite liberal in talking about CFUs [colony forming units] as if more is always better, or the number of strains in a product [as if more is always better]. But it’s not based on science and consumers are really confused.

“Do we want to move the conversation to what this biotic actually does and how does it work? We want to give consumers a reason to believe.”

Camille Delebecque (SVP and head of biotechnology) and Noah Zimmerman (director of science and technology).  Image Credit: Biotic Verb
Camille Delebecque (SVP and head of biotechnology) and Noah Zimmerman (director of science and technology). Image Credit: Biotic Verb

Signature Probiotics: “If you drink ZBiotics before drinking alcohol, you will wake up better the next day than you would have felt otherwise”

Speaking at a panel discussion on microbiome health at the SynBioBeta conference, Dr. Zachary Abbott, founder of designer probiotic startup ZBiotics, said he also saw significant opportunities to genetically engineer probiotics to deliver highly targeted benefits.

Founded in 2016, San Francisco-based ZBiotics has engineered bacteria to express an enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde, an intermediate product in the metabolism of alcohol.

While the liver is pretty good at making enzymes that break down alcohol into acetaldehyde and then convert it into acetate (basically vinegar), the gut, where even some alcohol is metabolized, doesn’t do it as efficiently. said Abbott. And this is where ZBiotics comes into play.

To produce the probiotic, Abbott transferred a tract for the degradation of acetaldehyde from the liver into a strain of bacteria (B. subtilis ZB183).

Rather than selling the enzyme, ZBiotics sells the probiotic bacteria (via a shot sold directly to the consumer), who then express the protein within the body.

Our first product is a probiotic designed to break down one of alcohol’s toxic metabolic byproducts that makes you feel less good the day after drinking. If you drink ZBiotics before drinking alcohol, you will wake up the next day feeling better than you otherwise would have. We saw an opportunity to offer real, tangible and concrete value.

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