October 9, 2023
6 minute read

Breaking Boundaries in Microbial Based Therapies

Dr. Haifer, specialist gastroenterologist, is leading the world's first study on capsule-based faecal microbiota transplantation for cancer therapy patients, playing a crucial role in expanding the accessibility of this treatment method across Australia.
Breaking Boundaries in Microbial Based Therapies
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Published on
May 14, 2024

"Recognising the growing evidence demonstrating the microbiome in health and disease and the acceptance of microbial-based interventions, I believed its integration should be clinician-led, serving as an ideal "complementary" medicine to boost traditional therapeutic outcomes."

What problem did you set out to solve, and what is the resulting innovation?

An estimated 50% of the global population struggles with chronic illnesses. Increasingly, it's apparent that our gut microbiome significantly influences our immune system, potentially triggering or exacerbating the disease processes. There is increasing awareness in the community about this link which has lead to widespread use of probiotics and other products aimed to improve your microbiome, although there is limited evidence supporting the use of any currently available formulations.

Faecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) involves transferring a healthy person's microbiome to a diseased patient to correct the imbalanced microbiome and has been shown to be efficacious in treating various diseases. Traditional FMT has been administered via colonoscopy, limiting its acceptability and applicability. Our team is working on making this therapy accessible and potentially scalable, initially through investigating the safety, efficacy and tolerability of using freeze-dried FMT capsules.

What was the catalyst moment to start your innovation?

As a specialist Gastroenterologist, I routinely see patients with inflammatory bowel disease grapple with standard immunosuppressive treatments.

Many feel torn between their clinician's advice and alternative therapies, sometimes leading to a breakdown in the patient-clinician relationship.

Recognising the growing evidence demonstrating the microbiome in health and disease and the  acceptance of microbial-based interventions, I believed its integration should be clinician-led, serving as an ideal "complementary" medicine to boost traditional therapeutic outcomes.

What was something unexpected you learnt along the way?

I discovered that the worlds of academia, business, and entrepreneurship, while seemingly disparate, are intrinsically interconnected. True and meaningful innovation develop when these realms coalesce, each amplifying the others, thereby accelerating transformative healthcare solutions.

What do you believe are the most critical healthcare challenges today, and how can programs like AUSCEP help address them?

The escalating complexity and cost of healthcare, paralleled with the increasing demand for services, underscore the imperative for innovative solutions to even maintain the level of care available for the population. Programs like AUSCEP empower clinicians, who are embedded in the healthcare ecosystem, to recognise and implement innovations that enhance efficiency and patient outcomes.

How do you envision the future of healthcare?

I foresee artificial intelligence drastically reshaping various life aspects, especially healthcare. I imagine AI streamlining healthcare delivery. Initially, it might alleviate administrative burdens, allowing clinicians more time and mental space for patient care. Longer-term, innovative AI models will facilitate more efficient care potentially shifting focus away from a one on one doctor patient interaction .

What skills or knowledge have you gained through the program that directly impacted your innovation?

Medical school and the broader hospital system does offer business or financial training. Upon completing my own training, I noticed this knowledge gap and my only comfort was recognising that  all of my peers felt the same way. Despite having multiple ideas to refine healthcare practices around me, I lacked insights into their feasibility and implementation.

Through the AUSCEP program I was surrounded by like-minded inspirational colleagues and received education and skills on business foundations, broadening my perspective on healthcare challenges.

This knowledge and experience has directly led to more fruitful collaborations with other academics, universities research funders and existing biotechnology companies; whilst adding an extra dimension to research grant applications

Share a key moment or experience from the program that influenced your approach to healthcare innovation.

During an AUSCEP educational session on networking, we were tasked with reaching out to someone we'd hesitated to contact previously. I harboured concerns about sharing my idea, fearing it might be seized or that my lack of business acumen would be glaringly evident. However, the swift, positive response I received from the person I reached out to, led to a series of constructive discussions, propelling my innovation. This experience highlighted the value clinicians bring to the business world.

Any advice for clinicians interested in healthcare entrepreneurship?

Don't hesitate - ask and reach out. Most people are inclined to help. Even if they aren't, you lose nothing by starting a conversation.

What's next for your journey as a clinical entrepreneur?

We've recently started recruiting for an exciting study using FMT in patients undergoing cancer treatment. I am hopeful that we can use this as a base to launch additional clinical trials using FMT and to use these findings to develop next generation microbial based therapies. Above all, I am going to continue to enjoy the balance between clinical medicine and academia, whilst spending quality time with my young family!

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