NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Companion PBx, a provider of digestive health solutions for companion animals, is developing a sample collection kit for dogs in collaboration with Metanome, a provider of metagenomics sequencing and analysis services.
In addition, the companies are planning to release a web-based survey that will collect health information for a planned database of microbiomes from healthy and unhealthy companion animals.
Under the terms of the agreement, Houston-based Metanome will perform metagenomics analyses on samples collected using Companion PBx's Dx Fingerprint kit, a product that highlights deficiencies in pets' GI health. Results from the sample kit and the data from the surveys will enable Companion PBx to make better treatment recommendations to veterinarians and pet owners and support its ongoing efforts to develop specialty foods and/or probiotic supplements that can be used in modified diets to improve canine health and digestive health problems.
Corey McCann, one of the Companion PBx's founding members, told GenomeWeb that the company's kit costs around $30 and is currently available for research purposes in a limited population to collect data. The company plans to launch the kit more broadly once baseline values have been established, he said.
Metanome provides consulting, sequencing, and analysis services and solutions for metagenomics projects. It is one of several companies listed in the portfolio of BCM Technologies, an early stage venture capital firm founded by Baylor College of Medicine. Metanome's services leverage research conducted at BCM's Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research (CMMR) and also uses sequencing and analysis capabilities available at the center.
The company has extensive experience with diverse human microbiome sample types and this partnership "presented us with an exciting opportunity to leverage the expertise that we have ... and expand it to domestic animals," Joseph Petrosino, Metanome's founder and chief science officer, said in a statement. "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."
That deep expertise is gleaned from large-scale studies such as the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) and other ongoing projects at BCM and is where Metanome believes its offering adds value to the market, according to Petrosino, who is also the director of CMMR and a primary investigator for the HMP. "We have … unique experience in how to collect samples, extract, sequence, and analyze them," he told GenomeWeb. "We work with customers from the study design component all the way through handing them publication-ready data and walk[ing] them through each step of the data so that they can feel comfortable with the data that they are getting and what it means or doesn't mean."
Founded in late 2013, Metanome's menu of sequencing services includes 16s and 18s rRNA sequencing and qPCR, whole-genome shotgun sequencing, single-organism genome sequencing, microbial RNA/transcriptome sequencing, and viral metagenomic sequencing. The firm uses platforms from Roche, Illumina, and Pacific Biosciences. It also offers bespoke data analysis and interpretation services based on project questions and needs that rely on various open source programs such as QIIME and MetaPhlan as well as proprietary solutions developed by researchers at Baylor that both expedite and provide more fine-grained analysis of customers' data, Petrosino said. The company also provides consulting services for experimental design and execution of projects including help with sample selection, collection, shipping and storage. It can also help select appropriate protocols for data extraction; sample prep and amplification; platforms for sequencing; as well as methods for removing contaminants. Other offerings focus on biobanking, culturing, and imaging, and the company also provides metabolomics and proteomics services.
Gwynneth Ballentine, Metanome's director of consulting and customer support, told GenomeWeb that the company charges for its services on a per-project basis and that the final cost is determined by the type of project, the end goal of the analysis, and how much consulting is required to complete the project.
She said the 50-person firm competes with companies such as Second Genome, which, according to its website, has created a microbiome discovery platform that it uses to identify and validate microbiome modulated drug targets. Its research activities are supported by proprietary and licensed technology for metagenomics assays, bioinformatics pipelines, and in vitro and in vivo assays.
Other competitors include Enterome Biosciences, which develops products for profiling the human gut microbiome to improve the management of related diseases including metabolic, gastrointestinal, and autoimmune conditions. The company currently has a partnership with drug developer AbbVie to create molecular diagnostic tools to monitor the gut microbiome in patients with Crohn's disease and other microbiome-related diseases. It also partnering with the Mayo Clinic to develop and validate microbiome-based tests to predict response to medical nutritional intervention in obese and overweight patients.
What sets Metanome apart is its "agnostic" approach to market, Ballentine said. While its competitors focus on specific arms of the market, her firm is open to business opportunities in multiple markets and domains. Its primary interest is research in health and disease and its current list of customers include Seres Health and the Broad Institute; however, "we do have interests in other markets like oil and gas [and] we see potential in the environmental and agricultural markets as well," she said.
Moreover, Metanome doesn't offer an out-of-the-box product, as some competitors do, opting instead for a more comprehensive solution that starts with design and spans the life cycle of the project and could lead to future collaborations. This, she noted, is more satisfying for customers than simply sending samples and receiving data back.