Next generation biotics for microbiome health accelerated by AI-assisted research – article

Learn about the state of AI-assisted cutting edge research and development in prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic microbiome research.

May 10, 2024

7 Min Read

We sat down for a chat with biotech entrepreneur Camille Delebecque (CD), head of biotechnology at Verb Biotics, innovators in research on the next generation of prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic ingredients for microbiome support. Read on to learn about the state of AI assisted cutting edge research and development in this growing segment.

NPI: What was the initial spark or series of events that led to the creation of Verb?

Delebecque: The foundation for Verb was laid by the collective experiences of its team members, many of whom had been brand owners themselves, grappling with the lack of differentiated and truly efficacious biotics solutions; or, involved with major probiotic suppliers that were just too slow or large to really innovate. This background, combined with a specific moment in time, prepared the ground for Verb. The biotech sector has witnessed a surge in innovative tools such as high throughput screening, lab automation, sequencing, and the proliferation of AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) technologies. The affordability of these tools has also significantly increased. DNA synthesis and sequencing cost, for example, has decreased faster than Moore’s law over the past two decades. Coupled with consumers' growing demand for truly effective biotics that deliver tangible benefits, the market conditions were ideal for the emergence of Verb. In the fall of 2021, Verb was launched by Ginkgo Bioworks, a pioneer in next-generation biotechnology, and was led by a team of grounded industry veterans from the outset.

NPI: Considering the market dynamics alongside Verb Biotics technology and strategic positioning, what do you see as the primary opportunity for brand owners working with your company?

Delebecque: At Verb, our guiding principle is "feel the effect," which encapsulates our entire opportunity. Achieving this vision necessitates a paradigm shift away from the limited selection of "legacy" strains prevalent in most products, away from the current race to the bottom that is “the more CFUs (colony-forming units) the better.” The primary realization here is that understanding the mechanisms of action (MOA) is key, and that metabolites are the true agents of benefit.

These metabolites can be delivered directly in situ and continuously released by probiotics, ingested as postbiotics for new shelf-stable applications, or used to encourage the endogenous microbiome to reshuffle and take action. Our approach and solutions at Verb integrate all these strategies to ensure the right metabolite is delivered in the right quantity and to the correct location. This focus on MOA and metabolites not only allows us to craft highly efficacious products, but also unlocks new marketing narratives. It enables our partners to (finally!) clearly communicate to consumers the reasons behind why they should choose specific biotic products.

 

NPI: Speaking as the head of biotechnology, as it relates to the journey toward realizing Verb's vision, how critical has the role of technology been in shaping product development and innovation?

Delebecque: Leveraging cutting edge biotechnology is essential in realizing our vision and developing products that are both intentional and transformative. Our approach to discovering strains capable of producing specific, clinically significant metabolites for various health indications extends far beyond what has been traditionally done. For instance, in a recent initiative, we conducted a screening of 255 million microbial variants to identify a strain uniquely proficient in producing GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).

This is made possible by utilizing the latest advancements in biotechnology, where our state-of-the-art lab and our close collaborations with Ginkgo Bioworks and others play a pivotal and synergistic role. Ginkgo Bioworks is a leader in lab automation and high throughput screening with more than 300,000 square feet of cutting edge laboratory space. Our own state-of-the art lab includes advanced genomics, metabolomics, and anaerobic culturing capabilities alongside deep AI/ML integration, a unique suite of functional assays, and advanced formulation capabilities to support our partners. Together, these resources form a unique and powerful framework that not only enables the discovery of distinctive and effective biotic solutions but also significantly accelerates development timelines and mitigates the risks typically associated with in-depth R&D projects and clinical programs.

NPI: Verb Biotics recently acquired the assets of a live biotherapeutics company (LBPs), YSOPIA Bioscience, a French biotech company centered on microbiome research. Can you tell us aboutyour specific vision of the future and about what developments we may anticipate in next-generation consumer - biotic solutions?

Delebecque: Acquiring the assets of YSOPIA last year marked a significant early milestone for us.  YSOPIA was a trailblazer in utilizing extensive microbiome datasets and cohort studies to discover novel strains with unique health benefits, specifically Christensenella minuta.  These strains are found in reduced quantities in individuals with a higher body-mass index (BMI) or gut inflammation. Strains like these can play a significant role in dealing with issues associated with metabolic health. They not only identified the key MOA and beneficial metabolites of these strains but also paved the way for the commercialization of next-generation anaerobic strains.

Looking ahead, I believe AI/ML technologies, along with high-throughput screening capabilities, will remain crucial in identifying these vital metabolites and strains for our health. I'm excited about the imminent future where companies like Verb, hand in hand with our partners, will play a significant role in maintaining and enhancing the health of populations. I envision a future where biotic products are seamlessly integrated across various product lines and categories, offering enhanced shelf life and robust benefits to the widest range of people.

 

NPI: Beyond the technological advancements, how has the "feel the effect" philosophy influenced Verb's operational model and company culture?

Delebecque: At Verb, our guiding principle of "feel the effect" does indeed more than just steer our R&D programs; it has fundamentally shaped how we operate as a company. Our approach is deeply rooted in cutting edge science, yet it's dynamically responsive to our customers' feedback, guiding our initiatives from inception through completion. I think this unique customer-centric focus has been made possible by the diverse and experienced individuals at Verb. Our team's collective background — marked by both achievements and scars or frustration in the biotics field — has been crucial to shaping a culture that can create grounded impactful solutions.

We've also cultivated a culture that values rapid learning from failures as much as successes. We also see Humans as the best ‘model organisms’ and we prioritize clinical trials to gain a comprehensive understanding of our products and to validate their efficacy early. But we don't stop at traditional approaches; we've been leveraging innovative clinical trial designs. For instance, our recently launched GABA probiotic utilizes a decentralized trial model to accelerate enrollment and integrates wearables. This approach not only allows participants to "feel the effect" but also enables them to "see it" firsthand on their smartwatches, bridging the gap between subjective experience and objective data.

 

NPI: How can brand owners fully utilize the technologies and advancements offered by Verb to craft uniquely differentiated solutions in the functional food, beverage, and supplement industry?

Delebecque: I believe brand owners have a tremendous opportunity to harness the latest advancements in biotechnology to offer effective, differentiated solutions to their customers. At Verb, our enthusiasm for collaboration means we are both agile and swift, positioning ourselves as a catalyst for innovation within the industry. Our biotic solutions are inherently flexible, allowing us to enhance existing products or help develop entirely new offerings in partnership with brands.

Currently, we have two readily available products that exemplify our innovative approach. The first is our Keystone Postbiotic, a fusion of select probiotic strains fermented alongside oats. This product is designed to nurture keystone bacteria, thereby fostering a robust gut microbiome and a well-regulated immune system. The second product, our GABA Probiotic, harnesses the calming effects of GABA, a crucial inhibitory neurotransmitter. It's designed for sustained release, offering consistent calm and stress relief both day and night. We’re currently starting discussions with brand owners to introduce these groundbreaking products and meet the evolving needs of consumers.

Camille Delebecque, Ph.D. – Biography

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Camille is an experienced biotech executive and entrepreneur, currently serving as the head of biotechnology at Verb Biotics. He is passionate about leveraging microbes to solve challenges in the food, agriculture, chemical and health industries.

Prior to joining Verb Biotics, Camille co-founded Afineur, successfully commercializing new fermentation technologies to create functional plant-based meats, foods, and ingredients. As CSO of Microbes Biosciences, he led R&D and pioneered new microbial products for agriculture. Camille also founded Synbio Consulting, where he advised C-level executives and stakeholders in the biotech industry on investment, IP, and commercialization opportunities. He has advised the European Commission, Merck KGaA, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Camille holds a Ph.D. in synthetic biology from Paris Descartes University, and he conducted his thesis research at Harvard University. His work has been published in leading scientific journals, including Nature Protocols and Science.

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