What is Biotechnology and how has it managed to grow in the global sector?

Biotechnology is a broad discipline in which biological processes, organisms, cells or cellular components are exploited to develop new technologies. New tools and products developed by biotechnologists are useful in research, agriculture, industry and the clinic. the use of living systems and organisms to develop or make products, or “any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.We have used the biological processes of microorganisms for more than 6,000 years to make useful food products, such as bread and cheese, and to preserve dairy products.Depending on the tools and applications, it often overlaps with the (related) fields of bioengineering, biomedical engineering, biomanufacturing, molecular engineering, etc.

The Revolutionization of technology 

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 After the first DNA cloning experiments 40 years ago, genetic engineering techniques has  developed genetically designed microorganisms and cells, engineered molecules and ways to new find genes and figure out how they work, and even transgenic animals and plants. After this revolution, commercial applications has exploded and an industry developed around techniques like directed mutagenesis, gene cloning, DNA sequencing, RNA interference, biomolecule labeling and detection, and nucleic acid amplification.

 Main Biotech Markets: Medical and Agricultural

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The biotech industry basically divides  into the medical and agricultural markets. Although biotechnology has been applied to other  areas like industrial production, chemicals production, and bioremediation, the use in these areas is still limited.On the other hand, the medical and agricultural industries have each undergone amazing  biotech revolution with new, and often controversial research efforts, development programs, and business strategies to discover, alter, or produce novel biomolecules and organisms using bioengineering.

The Biotech Start-Up Revolution

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Biotechnology has  introduced a whole new approach in drug development which did not easily integrate into the chemically-focused approach that most of the established pharmaceutical companies had been using. Since there was an established venture capital community for the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley, many of the early biotechnology companies also clustered in the San Francisco Bay area. Over the years, several hundreds of start-up companies are been founded and hot-spots have also developed in the US around Seattle, San Diego, North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, Boston, and Philadelphia, as well as a number of international locations including areas around Berlin, Heidelberg, and Munich in Germany, Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, and the Medicon Valley in eastern Denmark and southern Sweden.

Who are these Biotechnology Companies?

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Biotechnology has been instrumental in the  screening stages and initial drug discovery. Major pharmaceutical companies have active discovery research programs that is heavily reliant on biotechnology, and smaller new companies such as  BioMarin Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon and Exelixis that focuses on  discovery of drug and development often using unique proprietary techniques. With this there are companies like Abbott Diagnostics and Becton-Dickenson that are looking for ways to use new disease-related genes to create new clinical diagnostics. A lot of these tests identify the most responsive patients for new drugs coming on the market. Also, supporting research for new drugs, is a long list of research and lab supply companies which provides basic kits, reagents, and equipment.

Designing New Drugs Faster(Medical Biotechnology)

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Medical biotech, has revenues exceeding $150 billion annually, receives the bulk of biotech investment and research dollars.This part of biotech starts with basic research to identify genes or proteins associated with particular diseases which could be used as drug targets and diagnostic markers. Once a  protein target or a new gene is found, thousands of chemicals are screened to find potential drugs that affect the target. The chemicals that look like they might work as drugs  then need to be optimized, checked for toxic side effects, and finally, tested in clinical trials.

 Better Food (Agriculture Biotech)

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The same biotechnology used for drug development has also helped in improvement of  food and agricultural products. However, unlike with pharmaceuticals, genetic engineering did not generate a rash of new agriculture biotech start-ups. The difference may be that, despite the technological leap forward, biotech did not really change the nature of the agricultural industry. Manipulatation of crops and livestock to optimize genetics to enhance utility and improve yields has been going on for thousands of years. In a way, bioengineering is providing a convenient new method. Established agricultural companies, such as  Monsanto and Dow, simply integrated biotech into their R&D programs.

Plant and Animal GMOs

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One of the main focus of agriculture biotech is crop enhancement. Since the first genetically modified corn was introduced in 1994, transgenic crop staples such as  soybean, wheat and  tomatoes have become the norm so that now more than 90% of US-grown corn, soybeans, and cotton are bioengineered.  Remember Dolly, the first cloned sheep? That was in 1996. Now animal cloning is becomming more  common and it’s clear transgenic farm animals are on the immediate horizon . Although genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have generated a lot of controversy in recent years, agriculture biotech has become pretty well established.