Pharmaceuticals companies are relatively used to finding a way to market treatments for slightly awkward conditions. Creating television, digital and print advertisements that sell treatments for problems such as diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, bad breath are just about manageable for media and marketing executives.
But a new ‘wonder drug’ considered to hold the potential to better treat a range of conditions from diabetes to multiple sclerosis represents perhaps the greatest challenge to marketers to date. It involves ingesting faecal matter. Or, in layman’s terms – poo.
EnteroBiotix, a Scottish biotech company, is developing a pill made from the healthy bacteria found in our poo. The pill helps with faecal transplants, which are currently considered to be one of the “great hopes” of modern medicine. Faecal transplants help restore the natural balance of our microbiome – a diverse population of microbes that live in our gut.
The microbiome is now thought to be central to the moderations of many of our bodily functions. The correct balance of microbes keeps our bodily functions operating smoothly. But the wrong balance or kinds of microbes in our microbiome has been linked to a number of diseases and conditions such as various bowel conditions and even chronic fatigue syndrome.
The most effective way so far discovered to turn an unhealthy microbiome into a healthy one is through a sample from another healthy one. That’s essentially what a faecal transplant is. As explained by James McIlroy of EnteroBiotix:
“We want to expand access, maximise patient safety and reduce the ick and yuck factor. What we are seeking to do is overhaul the relatively crude way things are done at the moment and make it much more safe, effective and aesthetically pleasing.”
“Faecal transplants are highly efficacious. It can be life-changing.”
The usual way to make a faecal transplant is via a tube to the stomach – technique that is invasive and unpleasant, even if the results can be extremely positive. Over 15,000 people in the UK alone suffer from an infection of their bacterium. 25% of those infections do not respond to standard treatments. When such an infection gets out hand, it can lead to loss of control of the bowels. One of the side effects is patients becoming more susceptible to other conditions, which can be especially dangerous for the elderly. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 per cent of over-65s die within a month of diagnosis.
But faecal transplants are an effective cure. They come from donors who provide strictly screened samples which are then processed and frozen. When the time comes for a transplant, these samples are thawed and quickly injected into the patient through a tube into their stomach.
The EnteroBiotix system offers hope for an alternative. Key bacteria are isolated and dried in a way that doesn’t kill their microbes. This dried powder is then put into a pill that is ingested orally. Clinical trials are due to take place next year.