Biotech is disrupting how we approach health, medicine, and agriculture. Even without the impact of COVID-19, several trends in biotech have propelled rapid innovation.
Industry expansion has followed such innovation. The global biotechnology market is currently valued at 752.8 Billion — and growing. The development of breakthrough health initiatives from biotech will transform our future as we tackle global problems including disease, environmental pollution, and food management.
Understanding these trends in biotechnology can help companies capitalize on the explosive growth potential of the industry. But before you can harness the potential of these new technologies and practices, it is essential to understand the context and challenges around biotech.
This article will cover the trends in biotech that are set to change the world.
What is Biotech?
Biotech is a field of technology that implements biomolecular and cellular processes in the creation of healthcare, food, and fuel products.
The usage of biological systems and organisms is not new — humans have relied on microorganisms for thousands of years to create items like yogurt, bread, alcohol, and cheese.
The 1970s ushered in an era of genetic engineering, giving rise to biotech based on DNA modification. As the demand for biotech advancements and genetic sequencing activity continues to expand, the industry projects a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 15.8% between 2021 and 2028.
There are three primary sectors of biotech:
Biotech in Medicine
Pharmaceuticals, therapies, genetics, and clinical research are all examples of medicinal biotech applications. These fields use nature's organic "toolbox" to improve health outcomes for people. For example, there are now more than 250 biotechnology health care products available for previously untreatable conditions. Biotech in medicine can:
- Reduce infectious disease rates
- Change the probabilities of life-threatening conditions emerging for people around the world
- Create treatments specific to the individual to minimize health risk
- Help those with illnesses in the developing world
Biotech in Industry
Biofuels, paper, and chemicals are all examples of biotech used in industry. By utilizing biological processes, the energy and manufacturing sectors can leverage yeast, enzymes, microbes, and other biocatalysts to manufacture microscopic solutions. Biotech involves using these biocatalysts to:
- Improve chemical manufacturing efficiency
- Lower the cost of cleaning clothes through temperature reductions
- Save money on manufacturing operation costs
- Minimize industry reliance on petrochemicals
- Reduce greenhouse gases via the use of biofuels
- Lower water usage and waste
Biotech in Agriculture
Sustainable farming and crop insect-resistance are examples of biotech in agriculture. These applications rely on existing microorganisms to modify and enhance agricultural products, making them safer and more efficient to produce.
Worldwide, biotech in agriculture is anticipated to grow by $25.3 billion between 2021 and 2025. Agricultural biotech can help:
- Produce more crop yield with fewer resources
- Aid the environment by reducing the chemicals and runoff from crop production
- Create more resilient crops without the use of pesticides
- Alleviate vitamin and nutritional deficiencies to improve crops
- Alter the oil content in food to reduce heart health risks
- Create food without mycotoxins or allergens
New biotech innovations arise every day, and the industry will continue to grow as humans seek to surpass biological challenges with specific research-based solutions.
Trends in Biotech
Biotech is undergoing a global evolution. The most notable innovations in biotech involve personalized medicine, drug research, artificial intelligence, big data, and synthetic biology.
Let’s take a closer look at these growing trends in biotech.
Personalized medicine is growing as a result of the reduced time and cost. The first genome sequencing project that began in 1990 took about 13 years — and $2.7 billion — to complete. Today, you can buy a quick at-home genome sequencing test for around $299.
With personalized biotechnology, medical professionals can analyze genetics to identify medical risks in patients. By basing medical innovation on genetic sequencing, doctors develop unique, tailor-made health solutions.
Another benefit of personalized medicine is that it uses data compiled from screened clinical trials, enabling medical professionals to create individual treatment and therapy from those insights. An increase in personalized therapy is advantageous for general treatment as it identifies medical issues at their source: the patient's molecular and genetic profile.
For instance, personalized cancer treatment for leukemia (blood cancer) called CAR T-cell therapy targets immune cells, stimulating the immune system to target tumors.
Drug research is one of the most promising biotech trends due to advancements in smart technology. Traditionally, drug research faced challenges with getting enough participants for trials, and long production timelines that can run into years. Machine learning technology presents immense possibilities for drug research, as well as ways to improve and assess diagnosis and treatment with medications.
Just as telehealth provides a bridge over time and space to speed up triaging without patients having to physically visit a doctor, biotechnology accelerates drug production timelines without drugmakers having to actually get thousands of participants to complete clinical trials.
Biotech companies can quickly analyze data from current trials and revisit data from previous trials. This analysis and ability to combine vast datasets offers the insight needed to provide a more accurate diagnosis, and ultimately, devise enhanced medicines and treatment paths for patients.
A prime example is aducanumab, the medicine that many hope will cure Alzheimer’s disease. After a setback in March 2021, the drugmaker Biogen reported “a larger dataset for the EMERGE trial had become available, and that analysis of this dataset had shown a significant reduction in clinical decline.”
MRI scans and other in-patient monitoring devices provide medical professionals with more objective data that allows them to develop better drug treatments for patients. Biotech advances have made clinical trials less of a manual process, so drug manufacturers have lower costs when recruiting fewer in-person patients for trials.
With the digitization of clinical trials, biotech companies can combine genetic and biometric information to determine underlying causes of conditions such as heart disease.
Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to lend itself to a variety of industries, including biotech. According to StartUs Insights, AI is the leader among biotech trends in 2021.
Biotech companies have deployed AI to streamline a variety of operational processes via enhanced automation. For example, AI can identify biomarkers that have applications for the development of drugs and diagnostics.
AI algorithms also use image classification to detect traits of human diseases such as cancer cells, and the technology can locate crop diseases such as leaf coloration or decay. Other applications of artificial intelligence in biotech include phenotype screening and microbiome evaluation.
There is more data for biotech to analyze than ever before. Sensor integration and the internet of things (IoT) allow biotech researchers to fuel their innovation with unprecedented access to data.
One challenge facing the healthcare sector and big data is the storage and management of electronic medical records. The US Government is investing $19 billion to increase the adoption of electronic records in the healthcare industry. With patient information stored within a directory, the industry has a pool of data to work with to help improve diagnoses and treatments.
For example, Genetech has created a database of patients who underwent cancer treatment. Other organizations are accessing electronic records to match patients and clinical trials based on anonymized health data.
Big data can improve clinical trial recruitment, help scientists develop better crops, or help researchers understand newly encountered microbes.
Synthetic biology applies to several sectors such as industry, agriculture, healthcare, and electronics. Examples of synthetic biology include biofabricated electronic film, cell engineering for therapy, and automated coronavirus testing using sequencing.
Twist Bioscience, for instance, manufacturers synthetic DNA that can be applied to silicon chips. The technology allows firms to store DNA for Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS). NGS profiles the genetics of various populations to help uncover the cause of diseases and streamline drug discovery.
With global interest in biotech development, the trends above are likely to continue as investments in the industry continue.
Challenges in Biotech
While biotech advancements promise to transform health, energy, and agriculture, innovation is a complex undertaking. Several challenges impede the growth of biotech and its implementation for the public:
Biotech research is costly and often takes several years. For instance, new drugs cost around $1 billion on average to develop. Firms must invest heavily in research, development, and regulatory approval before bringing a drug to market. As the pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains, product costs remain high, compounding the problem.
The lengthy process of developing and gaining approval for biotech solutions hurts bottom line profits, with 98% of biotech executives reporting revenue loss from regulatory changes. Biotech firms will continue to receive funding, but pricing will always be a pressing concern as firms balance profit and loss.
There are numerous regulations that apply to the biotech industry. While some restrictions were relaxed for COVID-19 research to reduce the compliance burden, biotech-friendly exceptions are unlikely to continue in the future.
91% of pharmaceutical firms think additional U.S. regulations will be implemented beyond 2021. Increased regulations threaten to create upward pressure on pricing and drug approval.
Because of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Europe also faces significant compliance issues surrounding private patient data.
The biotech industry must hire experts at the top of their fields. And as the coronavirus pandemic continues, the pressure for new therapies and vaccines escalates. But finding top talent is an ongoing challenge for biotech companies.
As demand for biotech expands, production lead times have increased to 16 months on average, and most life sciences companies are already at capacity with research projects. Training new and existing employees will test biotech firms' abilities to keep up.
Building biotech teams is never easy, particularly with regards to finding executives who understand biotech and commercialization. The talent shortage has led to companies outsourcing work in addition to relying on in-house talent to meet demand.
Biotech requires cutting-edge technology and also produces advanced technological solutions as its end product — but outdated systems or methods can interfere with innovation.
Top priorities for biotech companies include finding ways to increase automation, data accessibility, and speed.
Technological inadequacy presents a complex hurdle when developing biologically effective solutions to pressing problems. As the biotech field grows, some challenges such as financing and regulation could be reduced and normalized, potentially leading to faster and more effective discoveries.
Biotechnology advancement is paramount if we hope to affect global change across the food, health, industry, and agriculture sectors. As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, the need for rapid response is crucial to combat disease, now more than ever.
Despite challenges, biotechnology continues to move forward. Last year saw over $26 billion in venture capital funding alone — the highest year ever for biotech investment. Biotech trends and initiatives present an excellent investment opportunity with significant ROI.