The life science sector is currently one of the fastest growing industries. Until a few years ago, however, the biotechnology sector was only a highly speculative admixture of the industry. Most companies were young, had few financial resources and hardly any sales. If a product was not successful, the company had to fear for its future. In the meantime, the tide has turned. According to the experts at Evaluate Pharma, biotechnology will have generated around 30 percent of global sales of prescription and over-the-counter drugs by 2020. By 2026, sales are even predicted to reach 37 percent. By then, about half of the 100 top-selling drugs on the market are expected to be produced biotechnologically.
In this article, we present three current biotechnology researches and their influence on the future, which are an example of how diverse biotechnological products can be used:
A team led by Professor Dr. Mehrdad Rafat of Linköping University in Sweden is researching a cornea replacement based on biotechnology. The problem to be solved is that donated corneas are in limited supply. Not only because corneas are needed from people, but because they can only be donated from people who have already died, otherwise the donor himself will go blind. Because of the shortage of donor corneas, only about one in 70 patients receives a transplant. In addition, donated corneas must be used within two weeks of a person's death.
Research by Prof. Dr. Rafat and his team has developed a fascinating solution in the form of a biotechnological cornea: The biotech implant is made from a collagen protein derived from the skin of pigs. Pig skin is a byproduct of food production, making it readily available and economically favorable. Another advantage over donor corneas is that the bioengineered implants can be stored for up to two years before being inserted.
In a pilot study in India and Iran, surgeons placed the implant in 20 blind or visually impaired people. According to the researchers, the procedures were free of complications and achieved results equivalent to a classic corneal transplant. All subjects regained their vision and only a small proportion required additional support with glasses or contact lenses.
Stefan Dübel, biochemistry professor at the Technical University of Braunschweig, worked for several years on producing artificial antibodies. Antibodies are essential for the survival of our immune system, because they recognize and mark germs. Real antibodies are produced in the blood. Therefore, animals have to be regularly bloodletted for the production of the biomolecules. The exact number is unclear. A scientific panel estimates that millions of animals Europe annually.
In order for antibodies to form in the animals, they are injected with certain foreign bodies that provoke an immune reaction in the body. The injected foreign substances can be very painful for the animals and lead to peritonitis or fatal embolisms. After treatment, the animals are killed to isolate the antibody-producing cells from their spleens.
That's why Stefan Dübel decided to develop a different method while still a student. Together with colleagues, he collected blood samples and stored them. This resulted in a DNA library that contains the blueprints for antibodies.
The method used is called phage display. Viruses with bacteriophages convert the blueprints from the antibody library into different antibody surface structures. This is used to find the antibody that recognizes the antigen being sought. The information is then introduced into cultured human cell cultures and mass production begins. The vegan antibodies have already been sold for research and medical testing since 2019 through the startup Abcalis.
Cannabis as medicine
Researchers at LMU Klinikum München are investigating the mechanism of action of cannabidiol (CBD) to fight tumors.
Studies have been known for many years that certain cells of the brain secrete the body's own cannabinoids. These serve as the body's self-defense against glioblastoma. Glioblastoma is the most common and most malignant brain tumor in Germany. About 4000 people are diagnosed with it every year. From the time of diagnosis, about half of those affected live an average of only 16 months.
The team from Munich therefore researched the effect of CBD against tumor cells from mice and humans. The study was able to achieve initial results: within a few days, the glioblastoma cells died.
However, the experts urgently advise against swallowing CBD all-round preparations now on the basis of these research results in order to protect oneself against tumors on one's own. Instead, one should wait and give science time until it can present pharmacologically flawless active substances.
These three examples represent only a fraction of what biotechnology is and will be capable of. In the future, the biotech industry will play a major role, for example, in the fight against infectious diseases, in transplant medicine and in the treatment of nerve diseases. It remains exciting to see what other opportunities will arise as a result.