PRESS RELEASE: Microbiome Insights, Global Leader in Microbiome Testing, Expands to New Lab Facilities on UBC Campus

Company’s rapid growth spurs move to new state-of-the-art facility

VANCOUVER, British Columbia–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Microbiome Insights, Inc. has announced the opening of its new laboratory on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC). The company, a leading end-to-end service provider for microbiome DNA sequencing and bioinformatic analysis, has expanded into its new state-of-the-art lab in order to meet the needs of over 100 clients.

“We have experienced rapid growth in our business and across the microbiome testing industry,” says CEO Malcolm Kendall. “This move is a major milestone for our company and helps us meet the needs of our growing client base, to deliver the high-quality service they have come to expect from us.”

Founded by two world-leading microbiome researchers, Drs. Brett Finlay and Bill Mohn of UBC, Microbiome Insights has grown rapidly since its incorporation in 2015—supporting over 200 microbiome studies across academia and industry. The new laboratory, located in the UBC Pharmaceutical Sciences Building, enables the company to expand its capacity, hire additional laboratory technicians and initiate clinical laboratory (CLIA) certification.

Brad Popovich, former Chief Scientific Officer at Genome British Columbia and Chair of Microbiome Insights’ Board of Directors, says, “The emergence of leading companies like Microbiome Insights is a sentinel for the growth of the microbiome testing marketplace; they are following a similar pattern of accelerated growth the field of genomics testing experienced over the past two decades.”

Microbiome Insights marked the opening of the new laboratory on May 28th with a reception and microbiome poster competition. Dr. Julian Davies, one of the scientists that spearheaded the NIH Human Microbiome Project (HMP) and Chair of the HMP External Scientific Board until 2015, spoke about the importance of microbiome research and the unique benefits of a UBC-based microbiome testing company.

See the original BusinessWire press release here.

New tools could mean profound changes ahead in medicine, says Canadian Medical Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Brett Finlay

Six exceptional individuals have been inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2018 — and one of them is Microbiome Insights’ co-founder Dr. B. Brett Finlay, University of British Columbia Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Faculty of Medicine, and Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at the Michael Smith Laboratories.

The honour recognizes contributions to medicine and the health sciences that have had an extraordinary impact on human health.

Dr. Finlay is a microbiome knowledge leader whose work has explored the role of microorganisms in human health and disease — in particular, asthma and malnutrition. His discoveries have led to the development of several human and animal vaccines, and to treatments for drug-resistant infections like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). (See Finlay’s full biography here.)

Below, we share a conversation with this esteemed member of our team — covering his career accomplishments and what he sees as the future of medicine.

Over the years, you must have overcome many challenges. What has driven you to do the things you’ve done in science and medicine?

I have always loved science, and the idea of using science to improve the world, including peoples’ lives, has always been a driving factor for me. Of course there are challenges, but as scientists we have the privilege to explore an exciting frontier, and find things never found before. Of course there are challenges, but all things worth doing have them, and being able to do science that has the potential to change the world is the greatest gift a scientist can have.

In your long and broad-ranging career, what medicine-related accomplishment or recognition are you most proud of?

The neat thing about science is you never know where it will take you. We are fortunate to have many successes. Some of the highlights include developing a vaccine to E. coli O157, developing the first SARS vaccine, and showing the early life microbiome plays a role in determining asthma are but a few. I am also proud of the book I co-wrote, Let Them Eat Dirt, and the new one I am finishing, The Whole Body Microbiome: Healthy aging with your microbes. This has allowed us to share the wonder and excitement of the microbiome with so many people. It is also changing how they look after their children with healthy benefits, which excites me tremendously, being able to promote child health through science education.

How do you think medicine is changing now?

I am biased, but I think medicine is about to undergo a profound change. Genomics, personalized medicine, and the microbiome will all play a major role in this upheaval. The ability to sequence a person’s genome or microbiome, to do a metabolomic analysis of a person’s urine, or a proteomic analysis of they blood all provide wonderful new tools to really figure out what is going on in a person, and then hopefully be able to treat based on molecular knowledge. The development of Crispr-Cas 9 could easily revolutionize gene therapy as well.

What innovations or directions in medicine do you see as uniquely Canadian?

Canada hits above its weight in science [but] science is global, and builds upon the shoulders of others, so to claim a geographic specialty is difficult. Canadian scientists are involved in many of the groundbreaking findings worldwide.

How do you hope your own work will lay the foundation for a different kind of medicine in future?

I strongly believe the microbiome will radically change medicine. If you take the top 10 reasons Canadians die, 9 of those 10 now have microbial links. Similarly, we know the microbiome plays a profound role in how our body develops early in life. There are so many areas of medicine the microbiome is impacting, the inside joke is “what area isn’t affected”! The other advantage of the microbiome is that we can change it easily, unlike our own genes. This means its application should be easier than gene therapy or developing drugs — drugging the “bugs” will be a whole new area of pharmacy in the future.

The 2018 Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF) induction ceremony was held on April 12, 2018, in London, Ontario (Canada). See the CMHF video of Dr. Finlay here.

From the human genome to the human microbiome: Toward clinical applications

Genetics versus Genomics

In 1991 the Human Genome Project—a collaborative effort to map the whole human genome—was established. A 5-year plan was put in place addressing the initial framework for the efforts including reliable testing methods, validated protocols, and milestones along the way. This marked a different path from previous studies of genetics—that is, the study of genes, or rather the identification of a particular gene that may be instrumental in a phenotypic outcome. Much of the work in this field had previously been exploratory in nature, with a growing body of evidence linking certain genetic variations or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to disease states.

In mid-2000 it was announced that the Human Genome Project had published their results of the almost completely sequenced human genome. While the results were interesting, the data were a far cry from being applicable. What it did do was spur further interest in developing better technologies that would allow cheaper and faster sequencing to add onto these initial findings.

In the years spanning 2004 to 2014 a multitude of companies were competing to churn out faster and better technologies such as the Roche 454 and the Illumina sequencing systems. The technologies were proving to be advantageous in many ways; for example, iterations of these technologies were serving to advance the microbiological sciences.

Awareness of the Microbiome

While the whole genome studies were mushrooming during this decade, the study of microbes was still largely based on culture dependent techniques and there was very little information or interest in communities of microbes residing in the body. Basic microbiology was built on the identification of single pathogenic microbes that were instrumental in disease states, while the non-pathogenic microbes were believed to lie dormant. However, certain areas of research focused on how microbes might influence host, or vice versa.

It was becoming widely accepted that microbes in the gut had a part to play in localized gut related diseases such as Crohn’s but it was less understood how the commensal bacteria shifted in abundance, and what caused these ideal growth conditions. This curiosity began to blossom, largely due to the advances in technology brought about by the human genome project, that would allow these growing questions (and concerns) to be addressed affordably and quickly. In 2007 the Human Microbiome Project was born.

“The recent emergence of faster and cost-effective sequencing technologies promises to provide an unprecedented amount of information about these microbial communities, which will bolster the development and refinement of analytical tools and strategies.”

– NIAID Director, Anthony S. Fauci

Microbial Snapshots

Once it was established that the microbiome was of interest, and of importance to the host, researchers developed new methods for studying it by taking advantage of the high throughput sequencing technologies that came to market during the genomics boom. First amplicon sequencing methods and later shotgun metagenome methods were the gold standard in microbiome research. But scientists began to acknowledge several factors as information about different ecosystems was being compared; first, that microbiomes were specific to their locations and diverse in nature, making them quite different from one body site to another. This was a paradigm shift as many had not considered this level of diversity in commensal and pathogenic bacteria, but also as compared to receiving the same genetic information from every host cell regardless of its location in the body. Secondly, the microbiomes are ever shifting and, upon collection, must be stabilized in such a way that the ‘snapshot’ is maintained at time zero. This means that factors such as temperature and moisture could quickly change a microbial profile if the sample is not treated with care. This opened the doors to a wide variety of collection devices and stabilization buffers with specific media to help maintain these profiles while being interoperable to laboratory procedures.

Clinical Applications

We already see clinical and diagnostic applications for microbiome findings. Although we are still working towards scientifically validating these applications we seem to be on a similar trajectory as we saw with genomics research in terms of diagnostic applications, publications, and consumer-friendly offerings. Interestingly, a singular ‘omics’ (i.e. proteomics, metabolomics, genomics, microbiomics) is informative on its own, but combining multiple features to define functionality of systems in the body will prove to be more fruitful in the long run. Understanding the complex nature of these systems and how they interact will enable us to see how changes or shifts in one system can have effects in other systems. This multi-omics approach is the basis for personalized medicine and furthermore can apply in other domains such as plants, animals, and environmental ecosystems.

At Microbiome Insights we are working with researchers to elucidate synergistic effect of multiple ‘omics’ at work. With this approach we are focused on the skin microbiome, the gut-brain axis, pharmacology, and other areas of science that bring together the genome and microbiome for a better understanding of human health.