I’ve always been amazed at the things and activities around which commons have been unexpectedly developed – noncommercial theater, humanitarian rescue maps, specialized scientific microscopes. Little did I suspect that I would encounter a commons based on....human excrement. Even more surprising is that this valiant little commons, dedicated to using the human biome to benefit everyone, may soon be enclosed by Big Pharma. Yes, there is big money in turning our shit into branded, proprietary product.
First, a little background (from an excellent NYT article on the topic). OpenBiome is a Cambridge, Massachusetts stool bank that provides people with bottles of a “mud-colored slurry” used in fecal transplants. In recent years, physicians have made the amazing discovery that transferring the microbiota of healthy donors into the guts of people with certain illnesses can rescue them from death’s door and cure them. OpenBiome assists in this process by collecting stool donations from the public, processing them in safe and reliable ways, and making them available to patients and doctors for F.M.T., or fecal microbiota transplantation.
Tens of thousands of people suffer from the bacterial infection Clostridiodes difficile, or C. diff, for example. Fecal transplants have proven to be effective in 80% of these patients. Some feel much better within hours. Working as a nonprofit, OpenBiome helps such people by producing between 900 and 1,000 fecal transplant treatments each month, for about $800 apiece.