The biotechnology industry is thriving and according to experts like Shay Benhamou, it will expand more in the next few years to reach a whopping value of $775 billion. Current events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly spurred this growth, but it is also because of increased financial support due to promising tests and results of new medical treatments for an array of illnesses. Modern biotechnology is focused on medicine and government research agencies, multinational pharmaceutical companies and small startups are developing new treatment options for complex and rare diseases. They are also conducting genetic tests for better identification of inherited diseases.
Some of the other applications of biotechnology include environmental science, alternative energy and agriculture. There are different career options available to those who are interested in this field. Whether you are new to biotech or are looking to expand your existing role, Shay Benhamou has highlighted the emerging trends in biotechnology in 2021 that you should know about:
- Use of Next-Generation Computing Technology
Technology has been the core of biotech. The introduction of advanced computing technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning enables companies in expanding the scale and scope of their research and boost the efficiency of the manufacturing process. This can help in cutting down the time required for biotech companies to bring new products to the market. For instance, Shay Benhamou highlights that the ability of analyzing large sets of data in medicine has enabled drugmakers in identifying treatments according to the cause of the disease.
This can potentially reduce 90% of the failure rate of developing new medicines and a price tag of $2.6 billion. Furthermore, as per Shay Benhamou, a number of innovations in biotechnology have become possible with the evolution of cloud computing. This technology helps in running applications through the cloud, thereby enabling companies to store and analyze data without having to invest in expensive computer hardware. Early-stage startups can benefit from this, as it reduces their operating expenses, and more established companies can also allocate their resources in a cheaper way.
- Increased collaboration with stakeholders
The ability of supporting collaboration amongst stakeholders is another perk of cloud computing. These stakeholders can be different organizations, such as smaller companies, multinational firms, government research organizations and academic institutions. The research process is expected to become open to a large number of shareholders and this is all thanks to software tools designed to support communication, virtual meetings and data sharing. Due to these tools, groups are able to work together, regardless of their location.
- The transformation of clinical trials
According to Shay Benhamou, the clinical trial process has been transformed due to an array of technological advances. There was a time when these trials were a manual process. The trial participants had to go to a clinic in-person for receiving their treatment and recording their side effects and symptoms on paper. Furthermore, drugmakers had to recruit a substantial number of participants for getting the correct sample size, or heavy investment in marketing resources was needed for recruiting the right patients for treating a rare disease.
However, as said earlier by Shay Benhamou, the world of clinical trials has evolved and is now heavily digitized. This has helped biotech companies in testing treatments on more patients, but in less time. A great example was witnessed in November 2019 when Invitae, a medical genetics company announced that it was conducting a trial with Apple Watch. The purpose was to use the biometric data collected by the wristwatch and the outcome of genetic tests for determining the genes that could result in cardiovascular disease.
Thanks to this advancement, the trial is accessible to a large number of people and helps researchers in excluding the patients that don’t fit the criteria for the trial. Moreover, Shay Benhamou believes that machine learning can also have a significant impact on the future of clinical trials. Data from the current trials can be quickly analyzed by biotech companies for predicting the effectiveness of the treatments as accurately as possible. Also, the data of the previous trials could also be revisited to check if anything was missed, or if an existing drug may have different or new uses.
- Increase in personalized treatment of rare diseases
Genetic sequencing has experienced a major reduction in its cost. In 1990, the Human Genome Project cost around $2.7 billion, but it has reduced to less than $300 nowadays and is expected to go as low as $100 in the near future. As per Shay Benhamou, this allows companies to do extensive screening of all the participants in a clinical trial and targeting interventions. Thanks to this, they are able to develop personalized treatment plans as well as targeted therapies. These can be a lot more effective than therapies that are less-specific, as they focus on the molecular and genetic makeup of a patient.
A key area where targeted therapies are being used is cancer. Blood cancer like Leukemia is a prominent example, as a treatment known as CAR T-cell therapy focuses on the immune cells of a patient, causing it to ‘attack tumors’.
- Need for higher agricultural yields
As per the United Nations, there will be a 25% increase in the global population in the next 30 years. It is a given that a growing population would boost the demand for food as well, not only for people, but also for livestock. In addition, there is also increased pressure on land as urban areas are expanding onto areas used for farming. Shay Benhamou states that these global trends give biotechnology the opportunity of improving agricultural yields.
For instance, gene editing could be used for producing varieties of corn or wheat that produce more grain within a smaller space or grow in harsher conditions, as opposed to other varieties that offer the same nutritional value. Furthermore, Shay Benhamou believes that developing biological pesticides can provide protection to crops without doing any environmental damage or using harsh chemicals.
These trends in biotechnology indicate that the field is moving forward rapidly and will continue to do so, given the increase in demand.