Biotechnology may be the science that stands to create some of the biggest changes in the 21 century. According to Chuck Tesla (2014), writing for Turnotech: “When biotechnology is combined with cybernetics and regenerative medicine it has the potential to radically alter our lives.”
But how? And why? Well, biotechnology is a science that focuses on the use of biological process to create products and applications. The biotechnology industry is still relatively new and has only been in existence really since 1971.
Jeremy Rifkin, a famous author previewed the importance of biotechnology very early on. In 1998 he wrote:
“The 20th century was shaped by spectacular breakthroughs in Physics and chemistry, but the stars of the 21st century will be the biological sciences, and those deciphering the genetic code of life. After thousands of years of fusing, melting, soldering and forging, we are now splicing, recombining, inserting, and stitching living material.”
Biotechnology is considered to be an important disruptor because it has the potential to considerably impact on human health through creating better and cheaper medication and treatments for disease or complaints. This is what biotechnology already does. However, where it has the power to really drive even greater impact is when it is combined with other areas.
Combining it with regenerative medicine can be used to slow or prevent aging, and that when it is combined with 3D-bioprining it can help with the development of printing human organs. Meanwhile if it is combined with cybernetics it can be used to combine people with machines, driving excitement in the scientific community as this allows people to rise beyond their current limits. It all sounds very much like science fiction but some of this is starting to evolve and drive change.
There are a number of important drivers that have and will increase growth in the biotechnology market. These include mergers and acquisitions which can increase efficiency and drive the scale of innovation sky high. It is argued that people living longer and living in urban areas more are also factors. Amazingly, it is cited that people are living 7.4 years longer at this point than they were 50 years ago. This has led to further demand from biotechnology companies and out-licensing partners for new products that help maintain health.
Urbanisation has led to a growing middle class in places like India and China which in turn has also led to increased demand for new medical products. Support and funding has also increased in the biotechnology industry, with a greater level of interest from investors. At the same time, political support has increased as governments realise the potential that biotechnology can bring to improve lives.
There are some barriers to progress in the biotechnology industry as well. One of these is explained to be increased regulation. For example, the cost of clinical development has become more expensive. Failure rate of new drugs being tested is also very high and this can be off putting with regard to encouraging development in this area, as this represents a waste of money for organisations that could have invested elsewhere.
Improved ways of running clinical trials could help to improve this situation. Sentiment is also argued to be a potential problem because currently biotechnology companies have been seen to be a good source of easy money for investors, but this could easily change if some other industry looks as if it can do better for investors in the short term. This could be quite damaging for funding, particularly if forecasts for drug launches do not show them meeting target and where companies do not meet expectations.
There is no doubt that biotechnology has potential to bring phenomenal change to societies. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing in some cases may be debatable, particularly with regard to controversial areas such as genetic modification. Genetic engineering has already led to the modification of organisms and this is set to continue. This has been called into question ethically, and there is a growing bioethics community that is urging restraint and stepping back and thinking about what we are doing.
Some of the changes that are being made could lead to very negative consequences for ecosystems, and these damaging impacts may not necessarily be obvious immediately – they might not emerge until it is too late.
The future for the biotechnology industry is unclear and there are certainly many questions to consider rather than necessarily going full steam ahead with some of the types of projects that are being undertaken. Let us hope that developments are positive and beneficial for the human race.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.