The biotechnology industry is constantly being shaped by new technological breakthroughs and advancements in knowledge. As public interest increases and more funding is granted, the following topics are emerging as biotechnology trends to watch in 2021.
The search for a COVID-19 vaccine has caused the life sciences community to reinvent the way it develops vaccines. For the first time, biopharmaceutical companies and government agencies forged strategic partnerships to accelerate the process of vaccine research and development.
For example, Moderna’s recently released COVID-19 vaccine is based on decades of previous, industry-wide research on how cells translate mRNA into proteins that fight disease. Access to this research and its evidence-based findings allowed Moderna to create its vaccine from the novel coronavirus itself, rather than using a weaker version of the attenuated virus, to elicit an immune response.
Because mRNA-based vaccines can be quickly moved through the phases of testing, Moderna was able to deliver more than one billion doses of the vaccine by early 2021. The research and development process behind the COVID-related vaccines has already provided valuable information about how to create more effective vaccines in the future.
Although monoclonal antibodies were first identified by research scientists years ago, they have recently been modified to create ADCs—Antibody-Drug Conjugates, with the ability to identify cancer cells and deliver targeted radiation more efficiently to these areas. Research conducted in 2021 will likely focus on additional ways to combine these lab-grown antibodies with drugs, creating new ways of managing conditions that currently require expensive medication or lack effective treatments.
Another important ingredient in the field of biotechnology are the so-called biosimilars. Like monoclonal antibodies, scientists have been aware of biosimilars for some time; however, further research in 2021 is expected to focus on their modification to meet emerging medical needs. Because creating a biological drug made up of living organisms can be expensive and complex, scientists rely on biosimilars to simplify the process. By using different compositions that vary only slightly from existing drug brands, biosimilars can deliver the same results as current immunotherapy and targeted therapy drugs at a lower cost.
Cell and Gene Therapies
Customized medicine is one of the hottest trends in biotechnology. Cell and gene therapies, along with customized drugs, are used to treat the precise variant of an illness. They are created by manipulating human cells and genomes.
Kymriah, the first gene therapy approved by the FDA in 2017, uses a patient’s own white blood cells to treat acute lymphatic leukemia. Yescarta, another gene therapy approved in 2017, has resulted in remission for 72 percent of patients with non-Hodgkins lymphoma enrolled in clinical trials.
Over the past four years, the development of cell and gene therapies have doubled in growth. Starting in 2021, industry experts anticipate steady growth in the area of cell and gene therapies as companies continue to respond to increased public interest and demand. In fact, the FDA expects to confer 10 to 20 approvals annually related to gene therapy and cell-therapies in 2021 and beyond.
These four emerging trends for 2021 are important because they remind people of the critical role that biotechnology plays in developing new medicines, guiding healthcare, best practices, and supporting the health and well-being of people all over the world.