[I’m the CEO of PathoBiome, makers of BIOHM Probiotics, the first performance probiotic developed to break down digestive plaque and balance the total microbiome.
In this ongoing series, I’m giving Forbes readers a front row seat to what goes into turning an idea into an actual product. In case you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE]
It all started about six months ago when my Dad wanted to share his latest research with me. He also promised lunch.
When I got to his lab, he was sorting through a stack of blown up pictures of Petri dishes on a conference table.
If Juan Valdez was a scientist, he would look like my Dad. Having grown up in Lebanon, he also has a very heavy accent. The man can explain intricate cellular science to a conference of hundreds, but I have yet to hear him clearly order at a drive-thru.
Bent over the table, scanning the pictures, he looked every part the aloof scientist in his own mental ivory tower.
“Hey Dad, what is this?”
Smiling, he looked up. “We proved that fungus and bacteria are working together to impact digestive issues.”
“Afif, this is big! No one has ever shown that bacteria and fungus work together like this! We all missed it until now!”
It sounded interesting, and he showed me more images. I’d seen many similar pictures having been around my Dad’s research my entire life. In fact, my first job at sixteen was clipping infected toenails for my Dad’s lab (yes I know that’s horrendous, but it paid well and I wanted a car).
The fact my Dad was publishing his results was neat, but seeing that he’d published hundreds of papers, I really didn’t think that much about it. To be honest, I was more interested in where we were going to lunch.
Dad’s Research Goes Global
That all changed in September. When my father’s paper was published, it went absolutely viral.
For weeks, his study trended on both Facebook and Twitter, and media outlets from CBS News and USA Today to the venerable Scientific America covered his research extensively.
In short, his research was being hailed as a major breakthrough in digestive health research.
While the scientific community and media went wild, Dad was also being inundated by people around the world wanting to know more, and asking to participate in future clinical trials.
They also kept asking something over and over that caught my attention….. “If fungus and bacteria are both impacting my gut, is there a probiotic I can use to help?”
So I asked my Dad just that. “Why can’t they use a probiotic?”
Beaming he said, “I’ll show you why.” He scurried back to his office and pulled out this picture.
“You see that big circle in the middle? That’s Candida tropicalis, a really bad fungus. You see the little ones around it? That’s bad bacteria. The fungus is ten times bigger than the bacteria!”
“Ok?” Then I asked my dad, “if everyone is only focused on good bacteria, not fungus, but they both are causing problems for people with digestive issues, why don’t we create one that addresses both bacteria and fungus!?”
The best part? His study has implications for digestive health generally. That was a critical factor because if we were going to be able to create a probiotic product based on his discovery, it would have to be a probiotic focused on supporting overall digestive health, and only make marketing claims to that effect.
Especially since we would have to do a tremendous amount of additional laboratory and clinical research if we wanted to prove that the product could actually cure or treat any specific disease. Something we wouldn’t be willing to do.
Understanding the serious regulatory implications of going beyond probiotic claims, and given that the market for general digestive health probiotics was enormous, I was more than happy for us to stick to creating a general digestive health probiotic. We would stick with tried and true probiotic claims based on the studies and scientific literature we did have. Either way, we still had a major breakthrough product idea on our hands.This. Was. Huge.
Houston, We Have an Idea
I couldn’t believe it. Looking at the picture, it didn’t make sense to me. If fungus in the gut was such a big problem (literally huge!), how had everyone missed it, especially the major probiotic players?
But apparently they had, ironically to the chagrin of my father. Just a few months before, he had written an Op-Ed in The Scientist, bemoaning the fact that the role of fungus in human health was being completely overlooked by the scientific community.
I left his lab and went directly to a drugstore, making a beeline towards the probiotics section.
Sure enough, the major brands only talked about the “good bacteria” in your gut. They were literally missing half the microbiome.
Furthermore, even if they had thought to include fungus, they had no way of knowing what combination of bacteria and fungus would work. We did!
Everything seemed to be indicating that this had enormous potential as a product:
1) The microbiome was in the news almost every day;
2) Probiotics had become a proven, mainstream category of products;
3) People were becoming very aware of how important digestive health is to overall wellness;
4) We had a totally unique angle for a next-generation probiotic; and lastly;
5) I had the globally recognized fungal scientist who knew how to counter the bad bacteria and fungus in the gut (thanks Dad!).
I was jittery with excitement.
Still in the aisle, I called Dad and said, “Look, we’re going to launch the next generation of probiotics that address the TOTAL microbiome. We’ll start with digestive health and go from there.”
Dad responded like I said we’d be trying a new barbecue place for lunch. “Sounds good, love you. What time are you picking up the kids? Your mom is tired.” (My Mom watches our kids a couple days a week).
Classic Dad. I told him I’d be over soon and hung up the phone.
“Ok good,” I thought.
“Now I just have to raise capital, figure out how to get a probiotic manufactured, create branding and packaging, get the retailers on board before they reset their probiotic category in eight months, figure out an online strategy and come up with a simple but effective way of making sure consumers understand the innovation. Plus about eighty other things.
All said, we had about six months to pull this off. My excitement quickly turned to a chill as I checked out at the counter with one of every probiotic the drugstore sold.
It would be a challenge, but certainly a doable challenge.
Sure some pieces were new (the whole probiotics thing for one), but that was the intellectual part of the puzzle. Plus we already had a lot of the infrastructure in place. We’d figure it out.
There was a lot to do and we had to get started. I called the team back at the office and said to drop everything.
“We’re launching a new product!”
Tasting the collective sigh in the room through the phone, I could tell they knew what that meant.
“Ok, we’re here.” said Danielle.
She is the glue that keeps everything moving smoothly. I knew that as soon as she hung up the phone she would be clearing off the white board for a frantic brainstorming session.
Twenty minutes later, we started to map out the To Do list.
The list was big… but the idea was massive.
In the next post we tackle the first thing we needed. Money…and a LOT of it.
Afif Ghannoum is the CEO of PathoBiome, makers of BIOHM Probiotics.
BIOHM is the first performance probiotic developed to break down digestive plaque and balance the total microbiome.
BIOHM balances the total microbiome of bacteria and fungi in your gut. Our formulation contains good bacteria, good fungi and a powerful enzyme that breaks through digestive plaque, allowing BIOHM’s 30 billion live cultures of good bacteria and good fungus to maintain, support and promote the balance of the total microbiome of bacteria and fungi in the digestive system.