For many years now, biotechnology has thrived on combining scientific principles with the latest technologies to improve our lives and the health of our planet. From helping us to produce food products, such as cheese and bread, to understanding and treating disease; there’s no end to the important role the subject has played amongst society.
But more recently, biotechnology has become far more prominent, with global leaders and world organisations channelling more money into research and development. According to recent global market research, the value of the biotechnology industry is predicted to rise to around $741 billion within the next five years.
Partly, the negative content of the pandemic has raised awareness of the importance of the biotech sectors in the development of medicine and wider world issues, while the increased supply and demand of growing populations has been an important factor in the industry’s growth over the past century. As such, more and more biotechnology companies are facing huge focus, investment and further digitisation to improve societies around the world.
Modern biotechnology focuses primarily on medical research and developments. In this field, government research and biotechnology companies work to develop new treatment options for rare and complex diseases and disorders. But outside of the field of medicine, there are also lots of biotechnology companies working in agriculture, alternative energy development, and environmental science.
Whether you’re new to the subject, or simply want to expand your current knowledge base, these five current trends in biotechnology should help get you up-to-date with the industry’s current developments which can be used as a base for further study and guide any future search for biotechnology jobs.
Below, you’ll find five of the most prominent trends that currently exist in biotechnology. This list is by no means exhaustive and will of course grow as more development takes place.
But, it’ll make sure you’re up-to-date with the latest research in the field, so you’ll have a great base of knowledge to use for almost anything; conversations with your friends, job interviews, university study, or, even any online courses you may take up in the subject.
The first on our list of current trends in biotechnology is its continuing role to evolve clinical trials. Over the past year, this has been particularly important, as research centres around the world have looked to run more efficient trials in their race to develop vaccinations against COVID-19.
Traditionally, clinical trials have been a very manual process, with participants having to physically go to a clinic to receive treatment and then recording any symptoms and side effects on paper which they then take back to the clinic in any follow-up appointments. When it comes to recruiting these participants, this has also been a rather time-consuming and costly venture. The pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies running the trials tend to invest heavily in marketing materials to ensure they can recruit a significant sample size of participants with a specific medical history and background.
Today, much of the work of emerging biotechnology companies has been focused on evolving clinical trials to become heavily digitised and ultimately, more efficient. One notable example began in early 2020 between Apple, Johnson & Johnson, and Evidation Health. Titled the Heartline Study, this digital health trial aimed to measure the impact of engagement with Apple’s devices on the cardiovascular outcomes amongst those of senior age in the USA. With cloud sharing technologies, a large number of participants can quickly be assessed, eliminating the need for traditional, more manual testing.
In this way, machine learning technologies hold a lot of potential for the future of clinical trials. Biotechnology companies can use sophisticated technologies to quickly analyse data, predict the effectiveness of treatments down to a molecular level, and store huge amounts of old clinical data, should they ever need to revisit it.
Another major trend in Biotechnology, which has maintained momentum for several years now, looks to offer personalised treatment plans for those with rare diseases.
Several years ago, using personalised medicines was more of an emerging concept. However, in the past couple of years, 42% of newly approved drugs and treatments were actually classified as personalised medications.
Partly, this is down to the emerging technologies which have enabled individuals to have their genetic sequences checked at a much faster pace than ever before. But also, it’s largely the result of mass, more affordable genetic technologies.
Back in the year 1990, the Human Genome Project cost $2.7 billion. Compare that with today, and the same genetic sequencing methods costs around $300, with projected costs to lower to around $100 in the future. These cheaper costs allow for much more extensive screening process in trials to take place, with more and more personalised treatment plans and targeted therapies being developed. These are far more effective for those with rare diseases, focusing on a patient’s exact genetic and molecular makeup, rather than the same mass treatment which has been developed based on a large, more generalised population of people.
Currently, cancer treatment is the key area of focus for personalised therapies. One of the most prominent tests right now is for the treatment of leukaemia. Called CAR T-cell therapy, this method targets a patient’s immune cells, triggering those cells to then attack any tumours found in the body.
In addition to more personalised treatment plans, biotechnologists are also focusing their efforts on enhancing these treatments which are used to treat patients.
Recently, much of the work of biotechnology companies has been to look at combining monoclonal antibodies with drugs, with the aim of making it easier to manage medical conditions that require expensive medicines or currently lack effective treatments.
Simply put, monoclonal antibodies are lab-grown antibodies that are designed to restore, enhance, or mimic an immune system response. Much of their work has been used on cancer cells, from identification to delivering radiation therapies to the affected areas within the body.
While using antibodies in this way have been at the forefront of much biotechnology research over the years, they are only now being modified in new ways. For example, one way in which antibodies are being used is for Antibody Drug Conjugates. Essentially, this involves attaching an antibody (which acts a drug) to an antibody. “The antibody itself is specific to an antigen that delivers that warhead to a specific location or cell. The drug can then be deployed to kill the infected or diseased cell.” (Source)
On top of this, biosimilars - another foundational element of much medical research carried out by biotechnology companies - is being developed to help enhance our current medical treatments for diseases.
Currently, creating biological drugs - those are, drugs that use living organisms as part of their ingredients - with the exact same genetic makeup and effects as another drug is an extremely complex process. Biosimilars, as the name suggests, can deliver the same effects as an existing biological drug, but uses slightly different compositions to make immunotherapy and targeted drugs far more accessible.
A current study which highlights the effectiveness of biosimilars in medical treatments is being carried out in India. Here, researchers are producing biosimilars which were originally intended to treat psoriasis, and repurposing them for the treatment of patients who are experiencing moderate to severe respiratory distress syndrome, as a result of COVID-19.
Outside of the medical environment, current trends in Biotechnology are also looking at ways to reduce the effects of climate change on our planet.
Industrial waste is one of the leading causes of environmental pollution and therefore, is commonly attributed to the climate change effects being experienced on earth. Fortunately, more and more biotechnology companies who specialise in environmental science are looking at ways to improve industrial wastewater management and reduce its impacts on the wider environment.
Using microorganisms, biotechnologists are developing new methods to treat waste in a way that’s far more economically viable. The process relies on using controlled biodegradation and detoxifying the main pollutants to create a quality air environment.
To accelerate this process and keep up with the masses of waste which are being produced each year, biotechnology companies are now using bioaugmentation. In simple terms, bioaugmentation is used to degrade certain soil and groundwater contaminants. It involves adding cultured microorganisms which are able to biodegrade the contaminants living amongst the waste.
This innovation is helpful for those with low volumes of microorganisms, meaning waste treatment systems can achieve their goals, regardless of any underlying extraneous factors.
By the year 2050, the United Nations have predicted that the global population is set to increase by more than 25%, from 7.7 billion (2019 figures) to an estimated 9.7 billion. A growing population means higher demands on food, both for the people and for the livestock. But it also means an increased pressure on the use of land as urban areas develop onto lands which were once used for farming.
For biotechnology companies, these global forces present an opportunity to try and improve agricultural yields for the future demand. For example, gene editing could be used to produce wheat or corn that can grow in harsher conditions than other crops, while still providing the same nutritional value it always has.
Many biotechnicians are also working on developing biological pesticides that can protect crops without needing to use harmful chemicals that could cause damage to the natural environment which it grows in.
Ultimately, as we as a planet continue to grow, biotechnology will become a leading force in ensuring that our processes can not only continue to feed and cater to new life, but do so in a sustainable way to preserve our planet for future generations to come.
Today, one thing that is constant in our modern world and that is change. Fortunately, new technological breakthroughs and advances in knowledge mean that lots of that change is to benefit the world. One industry that’s leading the way with these types of advancements is biotechnology, which is expected to grow significantly over the next few years.
The trends on this list demonstrate the prominence that biotechnology and genetics plays in our modern world. All biotechnology companies, research institutes, government research agencies are committed to improving the quality of life of all organisms for the benefit of the greater good.
Many of these are committed to improving knowledge and treatment in relation to medicine and human health, including a greater understanding of disease. But look a little wider, and you’ll see that biotechnology is responsible for many other avenues of change, including agricultural improvements, and, slightly further afield, environmental sciences.
The prominent role that biotechnology and genetics will continue to play in our future is clear.
And it’s the students of today that will become experts in the field, and take the lead in many of these scientific advancements for the betterment of mankind.
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