In a world in which scientists are often encouraged to commercialise their research findings, there’s something quite noble about Gregor Reid.
He’s a professor these days of microbiology and immunology at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and director of the Canadian Research and Development Centre for Probiotics. (More info here)
When he first started researching the probiotic (good bacteria) over 25 years ago, it was considered a bit left field and unnecessary, since antibiotics were all that was considered necessary.
As time has gone on however with no new antibiotics and a growing bacterial resistance, the role of probiotics and their ability to crowd out harmful bacteria has become increasingly important.
As a Scotsman, who carried out his undergraduate studies at Massey University and gained a Canadian post-doctoral scholarship, Reid ended up working on women’s urinary tract infections.
His research found that lactobacilli prevent infections by colonizing and outcompeting other more harmful varieties. Some of this research was patented, mostly around what the organism does and how it operates.
Monash University, where Reid did an MBA wanted to jointly commercialise the science, including potentially taking the resulting company to the NASDAQ.
“But I could see a potential conflict of interest, and had decided I didn’t want to be in business,” Reid says.
Two years ago the patent rights were sold, and is now sold as Flora Restore, a product to help vaginas repopulate with beneficial bacteria.
Reid is now able to concentrate more fully on the science of probiotics and how they work.
As antibiotic resistance grows, it also allows him to be at the forefront of probiotic’s means of preventing infection.
Reid says future approaches to ridding patients of infections will not be as dependent on the ‘carpet bombing’ technique of antibiotics, but be much more strategic.
Genetic bioinformatics and gene sequencing will see much more personalised medicine happening in the future. The role of probiotics and prebiotics (something that stimulates the growth of beneficial organisms), will have a much more important role to play in tomorrow’s medicine he says.
“There’s no reason such products couldn’t come from New Zealand,” he says.
(Prof Reid recently visited New Zealand to receive a Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from Massey University. See the Manawatu Standard’s write up here).