Biotechnology and medicine are closely linked, both studying the human body and trying to eradicate disease, and improve human health. Innovations in both fields impact one another, with crossovers like the discovery of synthetic insulin and gene sequencing advancements.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been even more biotechnology needs in the medical field, with biotech-focused vaccine research and mRNA developments playing a major role in public health and safety.
With public attention on biotech research, funding and recent breakthroughs have already led to advancements that will change healthcare and disease prevention. For example, in January 2022, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that a vaccine-like mRNA injection can create CAR T cells without having to harvest and reprogram the cells first. This could change cancer treatment and lead to new advancements in treating other autoimmune conditions as a result.
Let’s explore some recent biotech research projects with a focus on human health, pharmaceutical development, and healthcare practice.
Biotech Research in Human Health and Medicine
1. Gene Editing and Cell Therapy
Juno Therapeutics, an early leader in cell and gene therapy, inspired the growth of several related biotechs in the past decade since their founding. Juno alums went on to found related cell therapy research companies including Affini-T Therapeutics, Umoja, and GentiBio.
- Affini-T Therapeutics: Engineered TCR T cell therapies using synthetic biology and gene editing technology to target cancer cells.
- Umoja Biopharma: Therapies to reprogram a patient’s immune system in vivo.
- GentiBio: Engineered Tregs that create tailored therapeutics to treat autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.
2. Machine Learning and AI
HotSpot Therapeutics recently raised $100M to develop new therapies using AI-driven technology to identify and target proteins in the body that contribute to disease. They are developing new therapies that will offer targeted treatments for autoimmune diseases, cancers, and other illnesses that have never been used before. HotSpot will begin clinical trials of a new lung cancer treatment in 2022.
In February 2022, Thermo Fisher and Medidata Acorn AI announced their partnership to transform clinical trials in life sciences through a new AI-based platform — PPD TrueCast. This new platform will provide pharmaceutical and biotech companies with predictive modeling and detailed analytics to improve clinical research site selection, increase patient enrollment in clinical trials, and reduce the length of trial cycles. Using machine-learning insights and AI, and with information from over 25,000 clinical trials and almost 8 million patients, the system is predicted to improve the accuracy of clinical trial milestones by 30%.
3. Cancer Research + Treatment
Viome Life Sciences has raised over $100M to develop their early intervention diagnostics and therapeutics for aggressive cancers. Viome has partnered with GSK, and they secured FDA designation for their platform that screens individuals for early-stage oral and throat cancers. With a new 25,000 square foot lab facility in Washington, this team of researchers has a promising opportunity to make major strides in healthcare and diagnostics.
Health diagnostics are a rapidly growing field of biotech research and development. In 2020 alone, health diagnostic startups raised almost $5B in funding. Curative, an on-demand testing biotech startup, pivoted during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide on-demand COVID testing for communities via drive-thru, walk-up, and mobile sites.ixlayer is another innovative testing and diagnostics platform that combines the power of business software with healthcare and health testing. The ixlayer mission is to “fuel the future of health” and to “connect the dots, remove the barriers, and give our partners the tools they need to launch innovative and impactful health platforms – centered around superior patient experiences.”
5. Vaccine Research + Development
mRNA vaccines had been in development since the 1990s, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, mRNA rose to the forefront of hundreds of biotech research teams’ queues. Researchers at Moderna, BioNTech, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and other biopharma companies rushed to implement research that had been in the works for decades.
Now, new research is showing that a vaccine-adjacent injection using mRNA technology can make CAR T cells in the body, showing hope for cancer treatment.
Opportunities for Biotech R&D in Healthcare
The biotech healthcare market is only going to grow more as both science and technology advance. AI and machine learning will make diagnostics more customizable and patient-specific, helping to make medicine more equitable and effective for patients. As companies develop new technologies and ways to conduct research, it’s up to the scientific community to share ideas and collaborate in the spirit of innovation.
Technology makes biotech research more accurate, accessible, and data-driven, as well as more shareable with the community. Learn how biotech labs have undergone digital transformations, from procurement to experiment planning.