Novartis and J&J part of new US microbiome initiative

The White House has launched a new national initiative focused on researching the microbiome with input from Novartis, Johnson & Johnson and others.

The National Microbiome Initiative (NMI) will begin today with an initial federal funding amount of $121 million, including $20 million from the National Institute of Health and $16 million from the National Science Foundation, among others. An extra $100 million will be supplied over four years by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The initiative intends to advance the understanding of the microbiome and its involvement in disease and national health issues such as obesity. The three main objectives for the initiative are: supporting interdisciplinary research, developing platform technologies, and expanding the microbiome workforce.

Similar to the situation seen with the launch of the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) in 2015, the NMI presents various projects by private companies as part of the project, including collaboration featuring Novartis and Johnson & Johnson.

Novartis will team up with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), The Broad Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Harvard University to form the Novartis-Foundry Sequence-to-Molecule Pipeline collaboration. With an $8.1 million investment over four years, the project will involve mining microbiome data to predict chemical structures of thousands of molecules known to be produced by the microbiome, as well as their influence on physiology and behaviour. The overall aim of the collaboration is to develop a new class of microbiome medicines.

Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Human Microbiome Institute (JHMI) is also involved in the initiative, with the objective of developing a network of entrepreneurs and scientists in the microbiome research field. The JHMI will also make strategic investments in order to build a portfolio of microbiome therapies and diagnostics.

The NMI’s launch highlights the national interest in a field which, although known to influence drug pharmacokinetics and efficacy, is largely unexplored.

In October last year, Rebiotix’s RBX2660 achieved Breakthrough Therapy Designation from the FDA for the treatment of Clostridium difficile (C.diff) infection. Other pharma and health companies have entered the field, with Nestle Health investing in gut microbiome specialist Enterome Bioscience, and Pfizer and Roche both backing Second Genome during a series B funding round.

For more information on the NMI, read the fact sheet released by the White House here.

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