Data to Insights: Addressing Challenges of the Microbiome


dirk gevers

Dirk Gevers, Ph.D., Global Head, Janssen Human Microbiome Institute

A mysterious, complex and largely unknown universe exists within and on you. Every day, as you go about your routine, colossal quantities of microbes that form your unique microbiome are aiding or obstructing your functions. What role can this universe, the human microbiome, play in preventing disease and treating illness? This question has spurred unique in-human research and development strategies, which deliver an abundance of data. Now, what do we do with these data? How do we make meaningful insights and unlock solutions to our health? How do we turn code into tailored interventions and treatments ready for the market?

Using Computational Data Analysis to Drive Science Forward

The microbiome field faces numerous challenges in turning data into market-ready products, from identifying strains of interest, all the way to optimal formulation and delivery. We need tools to help us advance in-human studies, including tools that can translate data into insight while also validating results across labs and across research studies.

Many organizations are already building these incredibly important platforms independent from each other, slowing the progress these tools are poised to deliver. We realize that no one researcher or organization can solve the multitude of questions around microbiome analyses, tools development and standards on their own. This is why we are committed to working with experts from across the scientific community to tackle these complex questions.


The Mosaic Platform: Crowdsourcing Microbiome Sciencemosaic logo

At Janssen Research & Development, LLC and through the Janssen Human Microbiome Institute, we have collaborated with DNAnexus to build a community resource called Mosaic. This secure, computational platform enables researchers to develop, improve and share data and methods to facilitate the translation of microbiome research into clinical applications. The goal of the platform is to drive publications, partnerships and new ventures that improve our understanding of the role of the microbiome, and ultimately accelerate bringing products to market for the benefit of patients.

Janssen is hosting a series of Community Challenges on Mosaic. Open to academic labs, startups, informaticists and the broader microbiome community, our Challenges focus on some of the most pressing issues facing the field, while also putting participants’ tools to the test and allowing them to apply actionable insights into real time updates of their tools.

Strains Community Challenge Winners Announced

The first challenge, Strains, aimed to accurately determine the type and quantity of microbes in a sample at the strain level, so we can precisely monitor their status within the human body. This is a key step in order to commercialize safe and effective products. Scoring highest in Profiling were researchers from bioinformatics and NGS service laboratory CosmosID, and scoring highest in Assembly was Rayan Chikhi, Ph.D., computer scientist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). You can learn more about the Strains Challenge and findings at the Mosaic website.

Ongoing Challenges

Two additional Mosaic Community Challenges are currently open for participation. The Clinical Strain Detection Challenge is open for submissions through July 25, 2018. This Challenge aims to speed the translation of microbiome science into novel products by tracking the presence of certain known strains in a sample. A total of $17,000 in prizes will be awarded to prize-eligible winners (See Official Rules of Participation). The Mosaic Community Challenge: Standards is also open through Spring 2019, and aims to capture the diversity of protocols for NGS-based microbiome profiling methods and analyses as a first step in understanding their impact on the variability of the taxonomic results.

In addition, Janssen is collaborating with Nature Research, the preeminent scientific research publisher, to convene a group of microbiome experts in September 2018 to advance community-driven solutions to some of the scientific hurdles we face in microbiome science.

By leveraging the global expertise and resources of Janssen and Johnson & Johnson Innovation, coupled with that of the broader research community, we can help drive the entire microbiome field forward to transform how disease is treated, prevented and, eventually, eliminated.

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