Gut health is key to curing many diseases, says Sunny Jain, founder of Sun Genomicsa San Diego-based health startup that makes custom probiotics for customers.
Jain, a microbiologist by training who had worked at a number of testing companies such as LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics and Illumina, found that his newborn son had GI problems in 2016. The doctors couldn’t prescribe him any medicine because he was too young. Rather than accept the diagnosis as a condition that his son would have to overcome, Jain set out to see what could be done to improve his son’s health. He started testing his poo. There he found unhealthy strains of bacteria in large numbers.
“We could see that these strains can lead to inflammation in the body. I also tested my stool for a comparison to see what a healthier gut for adults looks like. And then I went down the rabbit hole to investigate different strains and their impact , “he says.
After spending $30,000 on tests, many of which he put on his personal credit card (and worked as an Uber driver to supplement his income), and researched the ins and outs of healthy strains of bacteria, Jain formulated a custom probiotic for his son . Soon after, he began to see some improvement.
Inspired by this success story, Jain came up with the idea to build a company that could do something similar for others. After testing many of the probiotics on the market, he found that many of them didn’t even contain the probiotic strains stated on the label, and others just didn’t get into the gut to help. Still, he knew that the gut microbiome was crucial to overall health.
“We’ve seen that there is an absolute connection between our gut microbiome and other microbiomes in our bodies, such as in the mouth, skin, lungs and the gut-brain connection, where bacteria somehow simulate neurotransmitters.”
Using data collected by the Human Microbiome Project and the American Gut Project, Sun Genomics has integrated that information with its existing technology, resulting in a database of more than 100,000 genomes. In addition to bacteria, they can also track fungi, parasites and viruses.
In 2016, when Jain started exploring this space, few if any products offered such a customized approach. After self-funding the first year of research and development, Jain took his concept to investors. He started locally with the venture capital community in San Diego, then moved to San Francisco to join IndieBio, an accelerator focused on biology-related technology and business. Not only was he able to convince investors, but IndieBio’s managing general partner Sean O’Sullivan had a child with autism and was also looking for tailored solutions that could help. The personal connection, Jain says, really helped him understand what they were trying to solve. He introduced Jain and his colleagues to researchers at Arizona State University looking at how gut health affects autism. Then in 2020, Sun Genomics began a study with Arizona State University, in which patients were given a modified formula for three months to see if there was improvement across the board.
Jain has now raised capital and built a company with a unique offering in the probiotics industry: he calls them “precision probiotics.” Each customer receives a stool kit, from which the company maps his/her gut, and the results of the genomic tests are available to view in an app. Rather than guessing which probiotics might help, he says they can choose strains based on research that they know will be more effective. Plus, they offer guidance through their in-house scientist Shirin Treadwell, who enjoys talking one-on-one with clients about their health.
In addition to researching autism, Sun Genomics supports programs in San Diego designed to better understand Crohn’s disease and colitis. “We have a science-first approach. We really want to help people improve their health, and if we can do that by supporting research, we will.”
Similarly, Jain says his team has looked at the impact of COVID on gut health during the pandemic; there is a remarkable connection, he says, which is why we see COVID appearing in wastewater and stool samples. “The virus does reach the gut and in some patients results in gut-related symptoms.”
Overall, Jain notes that since he started the company, interest in the human gut microbiome has grown exponentially. “I’ve never seen a field explode like this. Every specialist does a microbiome analysis, and it is every field. There are now about 60,000 newspapers printed on the subject.”
Still, the company’s research component is pricey. Jain tries to offer the service at an affordable price, but he acknowledges that it is not possible to do rock bottom prices because testing is expensive. Plus, he reveals a few trade secrets: Some probiotics contain many of the cheaper strains in higher amounts because it’s cost-effective for the company, but that’s not necessarily better for the gut, he says.
Sun Genomics’ probiotics vary in potency based on a person’s specific needs. Some are as low as 1 to 2 billion CFU, especially for children, up to 150 billion CFUs for adults who need a bowel revision. They use a combination of soil-based and non-soil-based strains of bacteria, which the company encourages customers to refrigerate on arrival, but they will also withstand room temperature for 30 days.
While some functional medicine physicians in California have come to recommend Sun Genomics to their patients to determine the cause of their dysbiosis, Jain is hopeful that this modified approach will become more mainstream and catch the attention of gastroenterologists who frequently see patients. with IBS, IBD, reflux and other common conditions, many of which can be improved by a better examination of the gut.
Getting a window into one’s health has been a bit of trial and error until now to see what’s missing or what’s too much. Still, Sun Genomics is part of a growing community of healthcare startups taking a more tailored approach, which could open the door for further research into not only gut-related diseases, but a variety of diseases related to chronic diseases. inflammation and dysbiosis.
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