Starbucks for longevity: Ani Biome’s Co-Founder on why a microbiome-centric design blueprint is set to improve health, wellbeing and longevity.
Last week we spoke to Bruno Balen, co-founder of Ani Biome, a company aiming to deliver a personalised approach for a balanced gut, about the role gut microbiota play in health, immunity and longevity and how this can be measured and addressed.
Longevity.Technology: Research into the gut microbiome continues to accelerate, with microbiota being linked from everything from autism to obesity and from diabetes to how well we sleep; the microbiome could also even play a role in how well individuals respond to drugs and therapies. With trillions of microorganisms and bits of their genetic material making up your microbiome, not only is yours very different from everyone else’s but its make-up and health varies depending on environment, your diet and a host of biological factors.
Understanding the unique nature of the microbiome is something that Ani Biome and its co-founder Bruno Balen take very seriously, and the rise of personalised health therapies dovetails with the company’s individual-focused approach.
Balen agrees that personalised medicine and nutrition is on the rise, and he points to new research showing that everyone reacts to different nutritional and pharmaceutical interventions uniquely.
“The reactions probably depend on a person’s unique genetics, metabolism and microbiome which plays an important role in food metabolism, uptake of nutrients and modulation of host physiology,” he explains.
“Our plan has always been to approach our functional blends from an angle of personalization, with the perspective that if everyone is unique, there is no reason to believe that a universal healthy diet or lifestyle exists. We are the only company that quantifies various measures of systemic inflammation, and offers personalized metabiotics – combinations of MaaMs based on our members’ biological data – to push our members’ weakest points in the right direction.”
After making the recommendations, Ani Biome encourages members to retake the biological tests and directly measure the influence of the blends on their systemic inflammation. The company expects the product enhancements coming out shortly will further increase the precision and functionality of its blends.
Ani Biome is also bringing out a test that determines a person’s microbiome genetic make-up.
“We will be determining the taxonomic abundance profiles (the types and quantities of bacterial species present) of our customers’ stool samples in our Belly test,” says Balen, explaining that this will be done by analysing the sequences of the variable regions of bacterial and archaeal 16S ribosomal RNA genes.
“We currently base the interpretation of the abundance profiles on available literature, but an ever-improving machine learning algorithm is in development which will integrate this data with the other sources of data we gather and generate a recommendation algorithm predicting the effects of nutrition, our own blends and behavior on our members’ microbial communities and overall metabolic and mental health,” explains Balen.
There has been much written about urolithin A converters recently, with research showing that perhaps as few as 40% of people have the necessary populations of microorganisms in the microbiome that allow them to convert ellagitannins into urolithin A , a so-called longevity molecule.
Ani Biome’s new test will quantify urolithin A converters roughly.
“We say roughly because it is not known exactly which bacterial groups are responsible for fermentation of ellagitannins resulting in urolithin A production,” explains Balen. “All of the groups known so far are members of the Eggerthellaceae family, so we will use the abundance of this family as a proxy in addition to quantifying the species known so far to be ellagitannin fermenters.”
As for other functionalities, Ani Biome will look into the taxonomic richness, evenness and diversity of the microbiota, short-chain fatty acid producers (which Balen cites as possibly the most important factors of the effect of the microbiota on health and certainly the most well characterised), the abundance of pro-inflammatory groups, the abundance of groups associated with cardiovascular disease and more.
But the Belly test has a wider purpose, as Balen explains.
“The main point of the Belly test is to build the machine learning algorithm with the purpose of discovering the primary parameters of personalization – why different people have differing glucose responses after eating the same food, why they have different inflammatory levels or psychological age with similar lifestyle habits, and which blends of nutraceuticals, metabolites of fermentation and natural bioactive compounds will most effectively nurture their unique microbiota and push them toward their own unique, personal optimum.”
Ani Biome calls this its microbiome-centric design blueprint, and it makes use of every single point of data available in order to work towards making its customers’ microbiota diverse, happy and continually improving.
The interface by which Ani Biome members will interact with their own data and receive their recommendations is the Habit app, and it’s currently in the testing stage.
“The app is designed to interfere with our members’ lives as little as possible,” explains Balen, adding that the app will also be a point of integration for all of the collected data and any wearables a member may use (Apple Watch, Oura ring, Whoop, &c).
The app will also feature the face and “voice” of Ani, which Balen describes as the platform’s “AI health and longevity concierge”. Through Habit, members will track their lifestyle habits and mental health status, and Ani will help them interpret the relationships between their behaviours and their biomarkers and wearables data.
“Ani’s most important role is rewarding consistent, healthy habits– not the current state of health, which is partly outside of our control, but the striving for a mindful synergy with our lifelong partners, the microbes inside us,” Balen explains. “This striving is at the heart of our philosophy. We are going to be rewarding and monetizing good habits by tokenizing them through Web3 implementations, adding another incentive for metabolic health.
“Everything said so far can be summarized in one term – Longevity as a Service, or LaaS. Our vision is that anyone passionate about longevity can use our microbiome-centered design blueprint to noticeably improve their health, wellbeing and longevity without much fuss or personal research and experimentation.”
Balen explains that the company’s vision for the long-term is a sort of biological transhumanism effect – a better human, more focused and energetic, brimming with vitality, all through co-peration with the partners nature has given us: the microbes living in, on and around us.
“Everything we do, we do in service of this vision,” Balen says. “We have recently opened our own research and development lab, and we have started publishing educational books on metabolic health and nutrition for our Croatian audience.”
The Ani Biome team constantly tests the company’s products and algorithms on themselves. Balen gives the example of a team study currently in progress, in which the team is collecting as much data as possible during a five week period with the goal of fine-tuning the company’s recommendation algorithm. Ani Biome is also participating in two clinical studies, and a third is on the way.
“Next June we are opening our showroom which will serve as the beginning of a longevity hub franchise – imagine Starbucks, but for longevity, and on steroids,” says Balen. “We are constantly researching fermentation, herbal and fungal bioactives, nutraceuticals, machine learning and new technologies.”
“We don’t underestimate the colossal complexity of the task we have put before us, and are glad that our vision has been met with outside recognition many times just this year,” Balen says, pointing out that Ani Biome has won first place in its category at the Firmenich Precision Nutrition Demo Day in Geneva.
The company has also won the Unicorn award for best startup at the Infobip Shift conference (organised by the first Croatian unicorn, Infobip) and won first place in cohort in the EIT ClimAccelerator programme, for which it won a grant and investment for reducing its carbon footprint and contribution to public health. In Madrid, the company won an award for most innovative product, and Ani Biome is also an official EIT Health alumnus, having won a grant and support from EIT Health.
“The trust of our members, team, investors, and mentors brings on a great deal of responsibility which we don’t take lightly,” Balen reflects. “This is why we are never simply satisfied with our work, and always continue to strive toward our grand vision of a world in which aging is considered a disease which can be treated and cured.”