This edition of the Life Sciences Café focused on how technology, data and data-based solutions are taking an increasingly prominent role in the personalised prevention of disease and was introduced by Jeroen Maas, Challenge Lead for Health with the Amsterdam Economic Board. Maas’ opening address gave a “sneak peek” into a plan that is due to be submitted to the City of Amsterdam which will position Amsterdam as a specialist hub for AI and data science in the life sciences sector. “Amsterdam, as a brand, is a magnet for foreign companies who want to come to the Netherlands,” Maas remarked. He added that Wouter Bos, Chairman of Invest-NL, will join the next session to reveal more about the plan. Maas then handed over to Marc ter Haar, a Strategic Relationship Director at EY, who hosted proceedings.
A new class of Microbiome Therapeutics
The evening’s first presentation was given by Jos Seegers, Operations Manager at Amsterdam’s Caelus Health, a biotech company that is developing microbiome therapeutics. He introduced a product developed by Caelus which uses the common gut microbe Eubacterium hallii (E. hallii) to prevent and control type 2 diabetes (T2DM). The number of people with diabetes is expected to increase to more than 350 million by 2030. To help combat this problem, Caelus’s E. hallii product increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which can help to delay the onset of T2DM in people who are overweight and have an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disorders.
The idea for Caelus Health’s E. hallii product was inspired by a study done at Amsterdam UMC in which faecal transplants were used to infuse intestinal microbiota from lean donors to male recipients with metabolic syndrome – a condition also referred to as pre-diabetes – which improved insulin sensitivity in patients. Taking that research, the team at Caelus Health developed their E. hallii product, which increased insulin sensitivity in test subjects in a clinical trial, thus implying a reduced risk of developing diabetes. The firm’s next step is to keep developing their product, focusing on a range of different results including bile acid signalling, butyrate conversion and product viability/stability and generating new product leads through fecal transplant studies.
Seegers confessed that one of Caelus Health’s biggest decisions that needed to be tackled next was the formulation of the product – deciding whether it would be formulated as a food or pharma product. This will affect how easy it is to get regulatory approval and bring to market, which they hope to do by 2021. Seegers later stated that only one probiotic has ever made it to the pharma market. He also introduced another product that the firm is working on – Intestinimonas butyriciproducens – which is still at an early stage of development.
The role of personalised nutrition in personalised prevention
The event’s next presentation was given by André Boorsma, a scientist at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). The first part of his talk focused on influencing phenotypic flexibility using nutrition to help achieve health goals. Boorsma showed that by pushing the metabolic system in certain ways scientists can identify early biomarkers which can help to predict the onset of disease. This method can be more advantageous than pharmaceutical methods which generally only identify biomarkers when a disease has already developed.
Boorsma introduced an ongoing study undertaken alongside GPs in Hillegom in which insulin and glucose biomarkers were analysed in people with T2DM using a drink containing 75g of glucose. Using the results from this test, the study calculated what was causing the subjects’ diabetes, such as insulin resistance in different organs or insulin production in the pancreas. By identifying this “real problem”, specific interventions can then be recommended to help the diabetes sufferer, which can include things like training specific muscles or taking more exercise. “Most of the people involved were much better off than people who were put on medication to treat their diabetes,” Boorsma commented. “This form of diagnosis is completely innovative, though it’s very difficult to get it implemented,” he added.
Boorsma also introduced work that he had done for American startup Habit.com, which collects more than 70 health markers from its customers – including metabolism rates and DNA – using a measuring kit test that customers can take at home. These markers are then entered into a “nutritional intelligence engine” which develops personalised nutritional programmes for customers. These recommendations work on a macro and micro-nutrient level, giving advice on the amounts of fats and vitamins each individual customer needs through a personalised food programme created in conjunction with Amazon.
Creating new collaborations by connecting people
As always, the event’s presentations were followed by a lively discussion led by Ter Haar in which audience members posed questions to the two guests. During these discussions, Seegers introduced the idea of working together with Boorsma to see if they could better understand the different subtypes of diabetes and improve interventions. Some of the questions raised during this part of the evening included: ‘How personalised is personalised?’; ‘How does Caelus Health’s E. hallii product fit into the Dutch health insurance system?’; ‘Is the Habit.com system available for children?’.
Speaking after the end of this lively discussion, Ter Haar enthused about the success of the Life Sciences Café events in bringing together life sciences professionals and members of the business community to create new collaborations and projects. “As we have seen today, the speakers didn’t know each other, and I think they will now collaborate in the future. I am talking to one person who is here tonight about machine learning and AI in combination with databases of diseases. Of course, we don’t see everything, but I think there are lots of things happening due to these events.”
About the Life Sciences Café
As well as offering presentations and debates, each Life Sciences Café event is a fantastic opportunity to meet and mingle with colleagues from the life sciences sector and representatives from the broader business community in Amsterdam. If you have any feedback, ideas or extra information that may influence future editions of the Life Sciences Café, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Life Sciences cafe’s organised by the Board and EY will return in 2019. If you want to be informed you can sign up for our newsletter here.