The Future of Biotechnology

Tarun Ramakrishnan

May 27, 2022

In our current day and age, with the rise of cryptocurrency and blockchain, we hear the term “decentralized” very often, but what does it mean? The definition of decentralization is transferring control to several authorities instead of one. In the sense of cryptocurrency, this means that instead of having a central location for creating currency,  such as the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, cryptocurrency aims to allow several different organizations and even individuals to make their own currencies such as bitcoin, ethereum, and many others. The concept of decentralization can not only be applied to cryptocurrency, but also to other unique fields, such as biotechnology. In the 1980’s, biotechnology used to be centered around major universities in order to gain access to research facilities and labs so that new innovations could be made in the field. However, due to the possibility created by decentralized markets and a more globalized workforce, opened up by COVID - 19 and the nationwide lockdowns, research companies have to adopt different methods of accessing research facilities and procedures. Most biotech companies begin as small startups which require labs to create drugs and medicines to help cure patients of certain diseases and infections. However, what if there ways to create these medicines without the necessity of a laboratory. Three “virtual lab” solutions include contract research organizations, sponsored research agreements, and cloud labs. 

Contract research organizations(CRO’s)  provide biotech companies with a range of services for preclinical - clinical development and regulatory filing, or documents that companies have to create in order to regulate their activities. Compared to creating a laboratory and running experiments in it, CRO’s are much more cost - effective. However, it is less likely that breakthroughs in production will be discovered through CRO’s compared to experimentation in local labs , meaning that they only do what is required and do not go the extra mile to perform extra work. Loyal, a company that creates drugs to extend dog lifespan and healthspan uses CRO’s for most of their work. Loyal uses CROs as the company is not a drug discovery platform and doesn’t use methods to screen and validate novel drugs. From this, it can be concluded that if one wants to make novel discoveries and conduct further experimentation, production in local labs is more favorable than production through CROs. 

Sponsored research agreements involve paying academic labs to conduct research for preclinical or clinical development. Out of the three methods, this is the one that has been adapted from methods used in the past. As mentioned before, when real estate close to academic institutions was available, biotech companies would pay the institutions for research assistants and lab space so that they could produce medicines and make discoveries in the process. Compared to CRO’s, this process is much more suitable for innovators as this provides the space to make extra discoveries and innovations that would not be conducted with CRO’s. 

Also, in order to help biotech companies grow, venture capitalists are starting to take notice and fund biotech companies. Petri, a biotech accelerator founded by Pillar VC, works to help empower companies and helps them gain more experience in the field by providing them with courses and slack channels to ask questions and collaborate on certain business strategies. 

Finally, cloud labs are AI powered platforms that automate lab functions and allow researchers to stop and start experiments remotely. Virtual biotech, as futuristic as it sounds, is not as reliable as performing procedures in physical labs. The science has to be more rigid as it must be pre - planned in order to conduct the processes through the use of AI. Cloud labs also limit startups in the experiments they are able to perform as they do not have as much bandwidth as that of CRO’s to allow startups to conduct their experiments. However, companies like Phage Directory have adopted a decentralized, global network with potential cures, an alert system, and a template that outlines procedures from the lab to the exam room. Other companies are also finding ways to decentralize their businesses and even decentralize research assets. One such company is Molecule, a company with the goal of building a new system to support early - stage drug development. The company has also made strides in selling research assets as NFT’s and is creating a new way to buy into traditional research. 

In conclusion, biotech is becoming much more futurized and methods that were once possible now have to be adapted to make way for newer innovations in this key intersection of medicine and technology.