What if the cure to cancer was inside of us the entire time? This seemingly outrageous question is now being relentlessly investigated by the world’s top drug companies. Both Roche Holding AG & AstraZeneca PLC are furiously researching whether the trillions of bacteria that live inside the human body could be recruited to help fight cancer. This new trend has been inspired by two recent studies published in the Journal of Science. Both studies showcased the amazing potential of immunotherapies to stimulate the bodies ability to fight off tumors. In the tests scientists were astonished by the reactions on the immune system caused by giving natural bacteria to mice. These new discoveries are fueling a spate of new studies dedicated at uncovering the diverse range of therapies that could one day help cure cancer.
Why Gut Bacteria Are Crucial for Fighting Cancer
“Five years ago, if you had asked me about bacteria in your gut playing an important role in your systemic immune response, I probably would have laughed it off,” Daniel Chen, head of cancer immunotherapy research at Roche’s Genentech division, said in a phone interview. “Most of us immunologists now believe that there really is an important interaction there.”
The studies that paved the way for this new area of medical research occurred on both sides of the globe. Researchers at the University of Chicago shocked the medical community when they discovered that supplementing mice with a natural gut bacteria Bifidobacterium controlled the growth of skin cancer. The study showed that this combined with immunotherapy practically eliminated tumor growth. A second study in France showed that the introduction of some bacterial species activated the body’s response to immunotherapy. These groundbreaking studies show that supplementing the body with certain bacteria can jumpstart the immune system.
The key focus of these new studies is the wildly diverse human microbiome. The human microbiome is a vast biological universe of roughly 100 trillion good & bad fungi, bacteria & viruses that reside inside the human body. When one type of bacteria, fungi or virus becomes imbalanced this causes a myriad of health problems. If we could figure out what bacteria to supplement people with, the health benefits would be nothing short of revolutionary. Unfortunately since the range of bacteria is so complex, this is easier said than done. It would have to be an individually personalized treatment since a supplementation that could help one person could cause detrimental effects in another.
This new interest in the microbiome is already being trail blazed by none other than Nestle SA. Last year the food giant invested $65 million into Seres Therapeutics Inc. to discover a treatment for the digestive disease Clostridium difficile. They aim to utilize the microbiome’s potential to come up with innovative ways to cure illnesses. This type of research was the precursor to priobiotic foods as well as healthy bacteria transplants.
Now that researches know that our bacteria can help fight cancer more companies are jumping onboard this growing movement. A London based startup 4D Pharma PLC has raised 100 million pounds($140 million) in just two years. Their aim is to start trials on human patients to see which bacteria is effective at triggering immunotherapy to combat breast & lung cancer. French Biotech Enterome is investing 15 million euros into developing treatments based off of bacterial secretions. A slew of major pharmaceutical companies including Roche, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Merck & Co. are already going full throttle at developing new immunotherapies.
These exciting new findings have given birth to an all out race between pharmaceutical companies. The best part is that these new developments are opening up doors to a slew of viable ways to combat cancer. Now that we know that balancing our microbiome through immunotherapies is a feasible treatment, we can ignore the old wives tales & create scientifically based ways for people to be healthy.