Over the last 30 years a revolution in biotechnology has seen scientists increasingly able to understand and control the basic processes of biology. Innovations in biotechnology have lead to using the body's own molecules as medicines.
Combined with evolving knowledge about human genetic make-up and the genetic basis for many diseases and conditions - we are better able to develop treatments and cures than ever before.
Since 1982 more than 140 biopharmaceutical medicines have been approved and made available to patients and hundreds more are in development.
Biopharmaceuticals comprises a number of different areas. The largest being Recombinant DNA technology which makes it possible to move genes of known function from one organism to another. Human insulin was the first recombinant human protein to be approved for therapeutic use in 1982.
Tissue engineering and cell therapies involve developing biological substitutes; culturing skin cells for treating burns or chronic wounds in which the cell is the treatment. This is leading to personalised healthcare where a combination of highly sensitive testing techniques and drugs that target specific gene markers will deliver highly efficient and safer treatments.
Gene therapy is the introduction of genetic material into individuals cells, sometimes using an inactivated virus, to deliver a therapeutic gene. It was used successfully for the first time in 1992, to treat a four-year-old girl with the rare hereditary immune disorder ADA deficiency. Most gene therapy studies today target hereditary diseases and cancer.
Genomics is the area of molecular biology concerning the function and structure of the organisms which make up the human body. Understanding the genetics that form us can help discover a cure for the illnesses that can kill us.
Most diseases and illnesses occur when one or more proteins in the body are not working in the right way. These protein cells are targeted and are compared in composition and function with that of a healthy cell. Once identified it is tested using substances from nature to detect which one can affect it.
Advanced technology is used to chemically synthesise substances or design them using computer simulations. The effective substance is then manipulated to enhance it's effectiveness and make it more suitable for drug development. Then it's safety is ensured so it may be produced consistently in large quantities.
From discovery to distribution, the process can take up to 14 years and millions of pounds of investment. The vast majority of potential new drugs don't actually make it into the market.
Accelerating the drug development pipeline is arguably the largest challenge facing the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries worldwide. It requires new ways of thinking at the interface between Biologist, Chemist and Engineer. Advances in technology means new capabilities and skills are required to make better decisions and design more efficient, cost effective processes that will help speed up the development of new treatments.
Enabling us to cure illnesses that were once thought incurable, faster and safer than ever before.