A Synbiotic Step Forward: Dr Lucien Harthoorn talks Synbiotic science, and Clasado’s collaboration with Probi

In what Clasado Biosciences described as “an exciting step forward” for the synbiotic supplement category, the prebiotic specialist recently published a new study in collaboration with probiotic manufacturer, Probi, which demonstrated a synergistic benefit of their synbiotic combination in an ex vivo colon model.

The Microbiome Times sat down with Clasado’s R&D Director, Dr Lucien Harthoorn, to learn more about the collaboration.

For our readers unfamiliar with the term, what are synbiotics and what potential benefits do they have?

To explain the term synbiotics, we must first mention “prebiotics” and “probiotics”. This is because synbiotics are the combination of the two. In simple terms, prebiotics are substrates  that are undigestable to humans, but are digestible to our gut bacteria. These are usually high-fibre components that act as an energy source for gut bacteria. Probiotics are live bacteria that can be found in specific foods, and food supplements which contribute to the bacterial communities in our gut.

Coming back to “synbiotics”, I use an analogy of seeds and fertiliser to explain it simply – think of probiotics as seeds and prebiotics as fertiliser. Seeds and grass grow better in the presence of fertiliser, just as probiotics and the indigenous microbes grow better in the presence of prebiotics.

Regarding the potential benefits, one is convenience. We know that lots of people nowadays take food supplements, so if you want to take a multivitamin, a probiotic, and a prebiotic every morning this can become a little confusing. A synbiotic can offer some ease because it’s all in one formulation.

Another advantage can be  greater health benefits compared to taking a probiotic or prebiotic alone. The lead strength of our collaboration with Probi, was that we demonstrated the possible synergies of combining specific pre and probiotics for targeted gut health and immune health outcomes . Sometimes when delivered alone, the prebiotic or probiotic might deliver gut health but not immune health, and vice versa. But, we’ve seen combining our prebiotic and Probi’s strain results in benefits  that work together to achieve an enhanced benefit.

What are the challenges of developing synbiotics compared to prebiotics or probiotics independently?

One of the larger challenges is that you cannot just combine every prebiotic with a probiotic and expect a positive impact. Prebiotics on their own can stimulate the growth of beneficial indigenous bacteria that reside in our gut. An example of such bacteria is bifidobacteria and lactobacilli .

But when a probiotic is introduced, we must ask ourselves, can the probiotic bacteria compete with the indigenous community? The space in our gut is finite. So, if we combine a probiotic and prebiotic, will that aid the probiotic strain to proliferate, and how will the prebiotic impact the indigenous community? These questions must be asked and evaluated when it comes to the development of a new symbiotic product. Does it really help? And does the combination of the prebiotic and probiotic have a greater effect than administering either alone?

Recently, the collaboration between Probi and Clasado reported the results of a joint study – what role does collaboration have in elucidating the future of synbiotic science?

I would say scientific collaboration is paramount in developing such synbiotic combinations before bringing them to the market. One needs to understand what the product does, and how it works, rather than claiming health benefits based on conjecture. We have to pick and choose carefully based on good scientific rationale,not just because one prebiotic or probiotic, looks nice or sounds great, or is easy to culture.

This is the basis of Probi and Clasado, two highly science-focused companies. And if there is a mutual willingness by companies or organisations to research together, as in this case, this really advances the synbiotic science and pushes the category further forwards.

What are the next steps for this collaboration?

The current study, which has now been published in the International Journal of Nutritional Sciences, received widespread attention from researchers in the gut space and also from food product and ingredient developers. So, we are presenting the data at several scientific conferences to educate people working in the field of gut and immune health.

We are also in further conversation with product developers to develop new synbiotic product opportunities for different health areas. This will require further studies and more research. There is a saying, ‘good science never asks a question without creating ten more’, so there is much more to discover and understand. This includes, for example, exploring the potential of synbiotics in the field of gut and immune health, and even in cognitive health, knowing the importance of the gut-brain axis.

The study described the synergistic benefits of Clasado’s and Probi’s synbiotic concept, can you describe the mechanism of the products synergy?

The synergistic working principles of synbiotics stem from a recent consensus in the scientific field of two working mechanisms, namely synergy and complementarity. A synergistic synbiotic is a selective mixture of a prebiotic and probiotic where both components work together to bring about the resulting health benefits. The second one, the complementarity mechanism, is still a useful combination of pre- and probiotics, but each component works independently to deliver one or more health benefits.

These definitions have been agreed and described by a group of leading scientists of the gut microbiome and was also endorsed by the International Scientific Association for Prebiotics and Probiotics.

Our synbiotic fits the synergistic mechanism. Our study demonstrated the combination of our prebiotic Bimuno® GOS and Probi’s Defendum® strain increases the production of butyrate and lactate more than with the prebiotic or probiotic alone. We also have data that show the GOS is utilised by the co-administered probiotic strains for their growth.

How do you ensure scientific rigour in your synbiotic studies?

As experts in research and development, Clasado follows rigid scientific methods and consensus. We ensure there is high robustness of study designs, and we work together with well-known research institutes around the world. As we did with the recent study, our studies must pass stringent peer-reviews before publishing. So critical mass and thinking is the first element necessary for synbiotic product development, commercial discussions must come after that.

Why is it important that synbiotic developers ensure their combined probiotic strain and prebiotic can be used together?

Synbiotics hold fantastic potential, and it’s easy to see why formulators and health consumers are having their interest piqued. ingredients can have contradictory or maybe even inhibiting mechanisms of actions towards each other. For instance, it could be that a prebiotic alone stimulates a certain group of bacteria or metabolites, but the probiotic strain could counteract that effect through inhibition of its action or some other means. Then, the net outcome could be zero, or even less, and the “synbiotic” is counterproductive. With the gut microbiome knowledge we have today, we must understand how the prebiotic interacts with the probiotic first, instead of combining things out of the blue.

What are Clasado’s future ambitions for synbiotic development?

As a science-based company, we invest a lot in our research and development. In terms of future ambitions, we’ve realised that as an ingredient supplier, prebiotics are a great ‘engine’ to enrich food supplement solutions and probiotics. I think that pre- and probiotics should not only be utilised alone, but in combination. With good, robust scientific underpinning, the advancing synbiotic category is really promising!

To learn more about Clasado’s work visit: Synbiotics with Bimuno GOS – promotion – Clasado Biosciences

Daniel Quinn