Money talks and we listen. Since the year 2000, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (over 50 billion USD in assets) has poured billions into tackling the world’s most pressing health problems such as malaria and infectious disease. Now the philanthropists are embracing gut microbes.
Like most of us in the probiotic industry, Bill and Melinda Gates believe in the promise of probiotics. In a blog on his website, Bill Gates recalls how his fascination evolved after reading Ed Yong’s book I Contain Multitudes. Eureka moments are always a hoot to hear but even more so when coming from a creative genius.
The problem of the nutrition transition
The Gates’s current interest lies in creating more specific formulas to target both malnutrition and obesity. The developing world especially is confronting what is termed a “nutrition transition” where bother undernutrition and over-nutrition exist side by side.
A disturbing number—150 million– of children worldwide are stunted in their growth due to poor nutrition and infections. Another 38 million are above acceptable body weights. That first number has decreased significantly over the last several decades while the latter has increased.
Can the microbiome help?
As research has demonstrated, stunting and obesity may be more likely if a baby’s microbiome isn’t seeded properly–ideally through vaginal delivery and healthy breast milk. That signature microbiome is fluid in the first year and then settles into an established community. Thus the first year is all important.
The Gates’s extensive work in developing countries exposed them to this new challenge.
They are pushing the envelope—as always—to make a difference in early nutrition. The hope is to boost the quality of microbiomes of the very youngest. The Foundation suggests that “new therapeutic strategies may need to include administering or promoting health-associated, living gut microbes – live biotherapeutic products – that perform vital metabolic functions and confer growth and resilience in the gastrointestinal tract and throughout the body.”
New therapies such as powders or foods with probiotics may be part of the solution.
Investment in research
And the Gates Foundation is also investing directly in microbiome therapeutics. At Dhaka Hospital in Bangladesh, an activated form of beneficial bacteria in the form of Evivo is being administered to infants to restore important bacteria in recovery from severe acute malnutrition.
New probiotic studies applied for funding of $100,000 each from the Gates Foundation. If they’re successful with that, researchers could get a second round of up to $1 million in cash to develop therapies.
The proposal called for fundamentally new strategies for manufacturing gut microbial biotherapeutics to achieve manufacturing efficiency and cost reductions necessary for global health applications. Necessary criteria were low-cost, scalability and universal application.
For more specific information, read here.