Are We Ready for Consumer Microbiome Testing?

Juliet Preston | MedCity News | November 9, 2016

Some people collect stamps. uBiome has a different area of interest. Since 2012, the San Francisco, California, startup has received and analyzed nearly 100,000 stool samples from customers trying to understand the unique population of microorganisms that call their body ‘home.’ It’s now preparing to scale-up and diversify its testing options, with the help a $15.5 million Series B funding round that was announced in early November. An alum of the Y Combinator, uBiome has grand plans. But is the microbiome science really there? 

It certainly wasn’t when the company launched as a citizen science crowdfunding project on Indiegogo. In a phone interview, co-founder and CEO Jessica Richman said uBiome has grown rapidly in its space, filling a healthcare void. “When we started out, we thought let’s get some microbiomes together and see what we learn,” Richman said. “Four years later, we literally have a clinical lab that’s unique in the entire world. And it’s real. Doctors can order this test and give it to their patients.”

In many ways, the company operates like a humble, gut bacteria version of 23andMe. It sells an all-in-one kit, with savvy packaging and marketing. The user collects a sample at home and mails it in for testing. At the lab, uBiome extracts and sequences the specimen’s unique mix of DNA, generating the raw data for the report. Things get much more complicated from there. The scientific community doesn’t understand a lot about the human genome. It knows even less about the human microbiome...