Microbiome dealmaking hits animal health with Metanome-Companion PBx linkup

In human health, companies both large and small have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into researching the microbiome--the microbes that live in our digestive tracts and are believed to influence a range of diseases, particularly digestive disorders. Now that enthusiasm is spreading to the animal health world, as evidenced most recently by a new partnership between genomics data provider Metanome and Companion PBx, a company that's developing microbiome-based nutritional products for cats and dogs.

The two companies will work together to develop a sample collection kit and web-based survey, which will be used to build a microbiome database containing information on thousands of healthy and sick dogs, according to a press release announcing the deal. Houston-based Metanome will analyze the samples, enabling Companion PBx to develop products addressing digestive health and to provide advice to dog owners and veterinarians, the companies say.

"Given the importance that owners place on the health of their pets, it makes sense to expand microbiome research to companion animals and specifically to help animals suffering from digestive problems," said Metanome CEO Joseph Petrosino in the press release. Petrosino also serves as director of the Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research at Baylor College of Medicine.

Robert Millman, CEO of Companion PBx, believes partnering with Metanome will allow his company "to collect and obtain the largest annotated microbiome data set in existence, which we will use to inform and develop proprietary pre- and probiotic supplements to optimize a companion animal's digestive health," he said in the release.

Pet owners have already shown a willingness to buy products aimed at improving their four-legged friends' digestive health. Market researcher Packaged Facts reported last fall that spending by Americans on supplements for pets is expected to explode from $750 million a year to $1 billion by 2017, and an estimated 7% of pet products currently contain probiotics.

The microbiome craze continues to grow on the human side of healthcare, too. On January 13, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) subsidiary Janssen Biotech formed a $241 million partnership with Vedanta to develop a bacterial treatment for inflammatory bowel disease. Last summer, Paris-based Enterome Biosciences inked a deal with the Mayo Clinic to research microbiome-based obesity diagnostics, and another Mayo partner, Ceres Health, raised $10 million in a Series B venture round to support its microbiome research.

- here's the press release