Based in Sunnyvale, California and established less than a year ago, wellness company Thryve is attempting to revolutionize the way in which individuals understand and interact with their microbiomes. Thryve offers gut testing kits and direct-to-consumer supplements to assist with balancing the bacterial, yeast, and viral content of a characterized microbiome, with the aim to implement personalized solutions to optimize individual health in the near future.
Thryve CEO Richard Lin was kind enough to sit down with Medgadget and provide exclusive insight into their process, technology, and what is in store going forward.
Zach Kaufman, Medgadget: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Richard. To get us started here today, would you mind providing Medgadget readers with a bit of general background regarding Thryve’s mission, your role within the company, and the ultimate problem you are collectively aiming to solve?
Richard Lin, Thryve: Hi Zach, thanks for having me on Medgadget! It’s an honor to partake in an interview. I’m Richard, the CEO of Thryve, and we help people learn about the microbes inside their body to improve health. We offer a monthly subscription that provides gut wellness testing kits 2-to-4 times a year, customer health reports, and premium probiotics every month.
Medgadget: Based on your experience and expertise, how might you define the ways in which the makeup of an individual’s biome impacts their overall wellness?
Lin: Research has been showing us that a healthy microbiome impacts many areas of our wellness including mood, weight loss, skin health, gastrointestinal and urinary function, etc…Although science is still figuring out what makes up a healthy microbiome, this generally consists of ecosystem diversity, a balanced ratio of good vs. bad bacteria, and a fiber rich diet.
Medgadget: What is the variation between different individuals’ biome composition? Are there specific lifestyles or types of people, etc., that are susceptible to more ‘extreme’ variations and who might stand to gain the most from understanding their microbiome?
Lin: We’ve seen that individuals who live in developing countries or areas that haven’t been affected by modern western influences tend to have more diverse microbiomes. In correlation to that, we also see that those communities lack susceptibility to long-term, chronic, and debilitating modern diseases such as Parkinsons, Multiple Sclerosis, Asthma, Autism, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Eczema, Psoriasis, and many more. Due to the standard American diet, antibiotic overuse, formula feeding, Cesarean sections, pesticides in our food, and many other modern methods, we’ve seen a pretty large extinction event within our microbes. Due to these lifestyle habits from childhood to adulthood, we’ve seen a completely detrimental change in microbiome composition in the modern western man and woman.
Medgadget: With that in mind, I was hoping to discuss Thryve’s specific solution and platform in more depth. From my understanding, the first step towards evaluating an individual’s biome is to conduct a wellness test. How is a wellness test conducted via Thryve, what markers are you measuring, and what does the produced report look like?
Lin: Great question. Thryve works with 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) data to pick up the species of bacteria that are in your gut. Through this data, we can calculate the diversity (i.e., the amount of species types and their relative abundance) and the balance (ratio of good vs. bad) of said bacteria. Based on this data, we provide an overall wellness score. Furthermore, we also data mine our opted-in anonymized user data to provide a side-by-side comparison of your sample vs. other representative samples. Complementing these findings, we then use machine learning and natural language processing to work with user-generated data (disease, symptoms, diets, supplements, medications) and 3000+ microbiome research articles to provide actionable recommendations on dietary actions and supplements that will work to improve your microbiome health.
Medgadget: Would you speak a bit to the origin of Thryve? I see that you launched fairly recently. Can you take us through that process and timeline?
Lin: Sure thing. About 12 months ago I took an antibiotic and became very sick to the point of being hospitalized. This prompted me to research the microbiome, which is composed of the bacteria, yeast, and viruses that reside in our bodies and influence our health tremendously. Taking antibiotics disturbs this ecosystem of microbes inside us. Thus, I wanted to help people test and learn about the microbes inside their body and improve their overall health & wellness. We started the company about 8 months ago, closed our seed round 3 months after, and launched about 3 months ago to great excitement from our initial client set.
Medgadget: What has initial reception been like? Do you feel as though the market ‘gets’ what you are offering and its value?
Lin: From a technology and research point of view, the growth has been tremendous. Roughly a decade ago the first strand of DNA costs $300M to sequence. We can now offer that same technology to your door to sequence the bacterial DNA for under $100. Furthermore, we’ve seen in the past decade that microbiome research has been blowing up to a hockey stick growth from the amazing discoveries on undiscovered microbes and their affected on modern diseases. That said, from a market perspective, we’ve seen a huge positive reception from the quantified self group, individuals dealing with chronic illnesses, and patients adhering to functional medicine, holistic health, or naturopathy. Many individuals are starting to see the importance of gut health and probiotics and that trend continues to grow. Although the rest of the market (mainly healthy individuals) requires a bit more education, nonetheless, more people are starting to become aware of the need to improve health through the gut.
Medgadget: As it stands now, Thryve offers a standard set of probiotics to maintain or repair overall biome composition. Would you tell us about these probiotics and the benefits they offer?
Lin: We partner with a leading probiotic research and manufacturing facility that has conducted internal and external tests to ensure benefits to liver function, gastrointestinal issues, and immune function. There are other health applications as wel.l but we still are finalizing our studies. Furthermore, our probiotics are at 100B Colony Forming Units (CFU) per serving which are 10x higher than your traditional off-the-shelf probiotics (which are roughly 5-10B and aren’t usually frozen). High CFU is important because the higher count allows more units to make it through the stomach acids and into the colon to confer benefits. Also being frozen is a must because it keeps the living bacteria viable and not dead on arrival. Furthermore, we have very diverse cocktails of probiotics that are 15 strains of Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Streptococcus strains.
Medgadget: As we discussed briefly, there is a personalized element of the service that sequences a user’s stool sample to identify information regarding that individual’s diet and lifestyle. What type of sequencing do you conduct on the stool sample, and what can you ultimately learn from it?
Lin: We use 16S rRNA sequencing, as I mentioned, on the v4 region of each sample. This helps us see down to the species level of bacteria, which gives us insights on missing probiotics and anti-inflammatory bacteria. Based off this data, we provide diet and supplement recommendations that have shown in studies to improve and grow specific good bacteria in the human body.
Medgadget: Do the results of the wellness analysis inform the specific contents of the probiotics sent to a customer? If not, is customization a direction you intend to explore further going forward?
Lin: At this moment, we have a standard high strength probiotic we send to all customers. We understand, though, that most people want custom and personalized probiotics, and we are working toward that goal. Our goal is to have targeted probiotics based on the test results of what is missing and would be beneficial to each person. We still need to gather more data and scale up our operations to support such an offering. We are aiming to have it by early 2018, so stay tuned!
Medgadget: How might that work? What types of markers or analytics are you keying into in personalizing a set of probiotics for an individual customer?
Lin: Based on the users goals, missing microbes, and sensitivities each of our probiotics would be tailored for each person.
Medgadget: When we drift further into user-customized solutions, it’s easy to imagine your services evolving into a clinical product. Is FDA approval planned for the future? What, generally, is the role, either in an ideal or practical sense, of a physician as it relates to treating based on microbiome diagnostics.
Lin: We are actively aware of potential FDA approval considerations in the future, and look forward to working intimately with them as our product continues to evolve. At the moment, we are staying in the health and wellness space and moving away from clinical. We want to prove out the direct-to-consumer space but also gather enough data to make a meaningful play to go down the FDA approval for clinical diagnosis and treatment route. We hope this happens in 2019 or earlier.
Medgadget: Are there competitors in your space? If so, how does Thryve currently differentiate itself? Do you intend to further diverge from other offerings as we move forward?
Lin: Yes, the only major microbiome consumer facing company is uBiome. We differentiate ourselves based on the following:
- More accurate stool collection method. Our CSO invented a liquid buffer for collecting a small stool sample that keeps the bacterial cells in stasis without killing them. The reason for this is so that the sample could not be contaminated by overgrowth or degradation from transportation or temperature.
- Dietary and supplement recommendations based on research articles and user data.
- Machine learning and natural language processing of user data and research articles for highly scalable insights into recommended actions.
- Sequencing of the entire microbiome: bacteria, yeast, food particles, and virus sequencing.
- Offers and end-to-end solution for gut health, including testing, reports, and probiotics.
Medgadget: While I have you here, is there anything else you think that the Medgadget readership might benefit from knowing about, as it relates to Thryve?
Lin: Science has made amazing discoveries on the microbiome. However, it isn’t happening quick enough. Unless our clinical trials and processes improve by a huge order of magnitude, these discoveries will take many years to make it into clinical hands. We need to work collectively (healthy and unhealthy people) to crowdsource as much data as we can to learn more about the microbiome and it’s affect on health and wellness. We look forward to braving this new frontier with you all!
Medgadget: Richard, thank you again for being so generous with your time. I appreciate you sharing your insight!
Lin: Thank you for having me!
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