Making babies healthier with a ‘lost bacterium’

Mike Johnson, CEO of Infinant Health

Mike Johnson, Infinant Health

World Without Disease

Preventative medicine is all about intervening early to head off disease. Well, it doesn’t get much earlier than infancy and, according to Mike Johnson, CEO of Infinant Health, in much of the western world there’s one clear preventative measure that can help keep babies healthier their whole lives – and it has to do with the microbiome.

B. infantus and the infant microbiome

Building on research from UC Davis in 2006, Infinant Health identified a key bacterium called bifobacterium infantus, or B. infantus for short, that is largely absent from the infant microbiome, but may have once been common.

“What we've discovered over the last more than a decade of research since that kind of seminal discovery was that this bug seems to be a key early symbiont of the infant gut,” Johnson explained. “And this appears to modulate the immune system, leading to all sorts of immunomodulatory impacts, leading to reduction of, we believe, multiple non communicable diseases.”

The predominant theory is that this bacterium’s removal is a side effect of widespread antibiotic use and caesarean sections. This is supported by the fact that it is commonly found in populations that don’t have access to these technologies or choose not to use them, such as people in the developing world and old order Mennonites and Amish in the US. 

“We believe that around the 1950s, maybe when antibiotics started being used pervasively and C-sections started to increase, we started to see a decrease in B. infantus,” Johnson said. “So, our company is really about putting that back and finding a way to reduce […] the modern diseases that we're seeing resulting from the absence of this bug.”

Fighting food allergies early: A probiotic for breast milk and formula

Exactly what diseases those might be is still very much under investigation, but Infinant Health is currently involved in research around atopy, Type 1 diabetes, and allergic proctocolitis. There’s also strong evidence to support that the lack of B. infantus contributes to the increased prevalence of childhood food allergies.

At the World Without Disease Summit next month in London, Johnson will go into detail on the company’s science and how it’s moving to address this with a direct-to-consumer probiotic, sold as a sachet that parents can mix into breast milk or formula. 

One topic of discussion at the summit will be the ways in which traditional healthcare business models don’t always lend themselves well to supporting prevention, a situation that has led Infinant Health to where it is today – pursuing a food pathway, rather than a drug pathway. Nonetheless, Johnson says they are exploring other pathways to market as well.

“Even in a world where we could definitively show a 50% reduction in food allergy, it's a judgement call because, if you look at it through a drug lens, the cost to insurers and to people is going to be quite high,” Johnson said. “And when it's, let's say, on the high side, 15% of kids that liable to contract a food allergy - that’s a really hard value prop for humanity to say, ‘Okay, we're going to give all these kids a drug in the hopes that some percentage don't now get this problem that we're having’.”

A world without disease: scientific prevention and bringing nature back into the game

But the consumer market is not without its challenges, Johnson noted, as they’re competing with flashier probiotics with much less scientific grounding. 

“Ultimately, we believe this is the kind of optimal state for the infant gut,” Johnson said. “And we discovered what nature had perfected and are simply trying to put back what was supposed to be there.”

Mike Johnson will be speaking at the World Without Disease Summit on 21st June at The Royal Society of Medicine in London. It’s not too late to register for this one-of-a-kind event.

World Without Disease