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DoseBiome wants to build an empire of microbiome-related oral care products, starting with a canned drink

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Xylitol-powered Qii wants to help consumers' teeth stay healthy

Related tags: Xylitol, Oral health

In its quest to dominate the oral care category, Canadian start-up DoseBiome’s vision has earned it backing from Johnson & Johnson’s incubation program JLABS.

The oral microbiome, or the environment of bacteria in our mouths, is central to DoseBiome’s​ philosophy. For now, its only product is a line of oral health-positioned tea in a can called Qii. It has no probiotic products, but it’s getting there.

Founder and CEO of DoseBiome Ted Jin, who spent almost a decade working in brand management for the personal care giant Procter & Gamble and later PepsiCo, witnessed the growth of interest in probiotics during his time there, from both the consumer side as well as in consumer goods R&D.

“I felt like when it had first surfaced as an area of not just research but also product development years ago, it was less understood, and there was less clinical linkage in terms of the results and the R&D behind it,”​ Jin told us.

“But I felt that a lot of the recent advances in the last decade or so had really put some credibility and started to make a lot of linkage to disease and to long term health,”​ he added.

The issue with the daily grind of multinational consumer products companies is that sometimes innovation has to take the backseat, he opined. “You get into a business rhythm with a lot of other priorities such as trade, distribution, things like that—I was missing a lot of the innovation.”

But the microbiome boom around him was hard to ignore, and it got his entrepreneurial juices flowing. “It was a category I felt that we should explore, beyond just traditional therapeutics that would be ‘doctor prescribed’ and more so as consumer products,”​ he said.

Getting a start with the pharma crowd

Good old toothpaste and a toothbrush can take credit for being the original ‘microbiome modulating’ consumer products long before consumer goods marketers started slapping the word microbiome on everything from probiotic capsules for better sleep to facial moisturizer.

So it is ironic that product development targeting the mouth’s microbiome lags behind other segments.

“We saw a lot of companies playing within gut microbiome, it’s a fairly hot market, even different segments such as skin has received a lot of attention the last few years, but oral was an area we felt was a bit undervalued,”​ Jin said. 

2_supplementfacts-whitepeach
Ingredients in a can of Qii.

That’s what motivated him to establish DoseBiome in the summer of 2016. The company joined an innovation cluster in Toronto called MaRS, across the street from the University of Toronto and surrounded by four major hospitals.

From there, DoseBiome got the attention of Johnson & Johnson’s incubation program JLABS. It has now been a cohort of JLABS since 2016. At both MaRS and JLABS, DoseBiome has been the odd one out as a food and beverage company surrounded by pharmaceutical start-ups. (The products are technically dietary supplements, as they have a Supplements Facts panel).

“We’re very much a food and beverage technology company, but it hasn’t really made them shy away from their support of us and we’re extremely grateful for that.”

Qii – how does microbiome play into this?

Can Qii Line
Different flavors of Qii and the marketing around it. Photo: Qii / Instagram

Qii, a line of tea from unfermented green tea leaves and a patent-pending blend of xylitol and other ingredients, is the company’s first product. On the can is a structure function claim: ‘Drink daily to promote oral health.’

On its website, it has claims of killing 52% of harmful bacteria in the mouth, and helping drinkers keep away from tooth decay.

Nowhere on the can or its website does it mention the word microbiome, despite oral microbiome being central to DoseBiome.

“It was a very deliberate choice not to talk about microbiome yet​,​ Jin explained. “The product Qii is something we developed as a step one. We really mean it to be a first step for a series of products.”

With no probiotics in it, Jin said that he can’t “in good conscience” ​use the word microbiome, which many consumers equate to probiotics. Instead, Qii relies on the dental and oral health benefits observed in xylitol, the main sweetener and active used in Qii.

“For the first year of our existence, we wanted to understand how do we make xylitol better and more efficacious in a drink environment, which has not really been done too much,”​ he said.

No peer-reviewed clinical trials have been done on Qii as a finished product, instead, the company is standing on the shoulders of many published studies on xylitol in addition to in vitro ​and ex vivo​ studies done at JLABS.

One proposed theory is that when the bacteria Streptococcus mutans​ dines on xylitol instead of sugar it starves and dies. “So there’s less accumulation of byproduct or biofilm and acid, which equates to less plaque,”​ Jin explained.

The idea in the can

Another reason Qii focused on making a canned drink is because the other alternatives in the oral care space are hard to beat. "There are great solutions in oral health, and one of the reasons that no one really talks about it that much in the microbiome space is because there is a good system in place for it,"​ he said.

"If you take care of your teeth, if you brush, floss, rinse religiously, if you visit your dentist, you’re in the clear."

The goal with Qii is to provide day-long oral care, beyond the three minutes of brushing each morning and evening.

"It’s those times when you and I reach for a sugary pick me up after a meal. A mid-afternoon candy bar. Anything that potentially brings harm to your teeth that helps feed microorganisms in your mouth and helps exacerbate plaque build up, that’s actually the time in which we can make a huge impact, so we decided to go after that. That’s really how the product Qii was born,"​ he said.

Qii helps maintain oral health by keeping the mouth’s PH balance at a neutral 6.5 or 7.5. Tea helps do this, and the xylitol helps it by decreasing acidity in the mouth caused by bacteria fermenting sugar. In fact, the name Qii comes from the Mandarin word for the number seven, the neutral PH balance in the mouth.

It hit the US market in January of 2018. Today the product is distributed in the US by UNFI and KeHE in the natural specialty grocery channel as well as online.

Next step, probiotics

DoseBiome is now at the beginning step of what Jin calls a “more evolved product.”​ For this product, there is a clinical study planned.

“Our initial research is focused on oral ecology and to understand how bacteria works and grows,”​ he said, adding that even before Qii was launched, his team wanted to identify new strains of bacteria that were previously undocumented and have unique characteristics that would allow for better competition in the mouth.

“That innovation is now seeing the light of day,”​ he said. “When we started this project, we had this concept of the xylitol, which was around how do we feed the pathogenic bacteria something different. The second stage is how do we replace that bacteria that’s no longer there with something more beneficial.”

“We’ve gotten there now, and the next stage of the company is to really scale up the development of that bacteria or probiotic, and start to move that into full-on product development.”

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