Biotechnology has spawned revolutionary discoveries during the last decades, and many sectors now see it playing a key role: health, food, cosmetics, environment... This place has been all the more asserted since the Covid-19 health crisis, so the biotechnology sector has experienced a veritable disruption. In this article, we will define what biotechnology is, highlight its actors and its stakes, and underline the efficiency of Data in this vast sector.
What is biotech?
The field of biotechnology covers all technologies and applications that use or modify living materials in scientific research. The latter aim in particular to complement and increase human knowledge. However, biotechnology can also be used for commercial purposes in order to create a product or service.
The main sectors of activity that use biotech on a daily basis are the following:
- pharmaceutical industries (example: development of new therapies for genetic diseases previously considered incurable)
- cosmetics (e.g. creation of artificial skin as an alternative to animal testing)
- agri-food (e.g. design of plants that are more resistant to bacteria and pests, improvement of crop yields)
More generally, biotech also enables the development of green chemistry and the implementation of water decontamination.
Contemporary biotechnologies are so numerous that research laboratories now use color codes to categorize them:
- “red biotechnology”: medical activities such as the manufacture of drugs, vaccines or gene therapies
- “green biotechnology”: agricultural and ecological applications through the creation of genetically modified plants that require less water and fertilizer
- “white biotechnology”: biofuel production
- “orange biotechnology”: a purely pedagogical aim
- “blue biotechnology”: use of living marine materials
- “yellow biotechnology”: anti-pollution treatments
What are the stakes of biotech?
A booming sector of the future
This sector represents a huge potential for innovation. This is reflected by the growing interest of investors in biotech since the Covid-19 health crisis. Companies in this sector have indeed had to prioritize the search for a vaccine against the virus over other issues. This phenomenon has caused a real boom in the financial markets.
If the United States seems to have become the world epicenter of basic and applied biotechnology research thanks to Silicon Valley, Europe also occupies an important place in this sector - with more than 30,000 biotech companies and 25,000 in the medical technology sector.
Among the 21 European biotech companies to watch for the year 2021, we can cite:
- England: Arctoris has developed a robotic laboratory platform to design, simulate and conduct experiments remotely; Exscientia has launched one of the first phase I clinical trials of a drug for obsessive compulsive disorder discovered using AI tools;
- Germany: BioNTech, together with its U.S. partner Pfizer, was the first to commercialize a messenger RNA vaccine against Covid-19
- France: AB Science which specializes in research to treat Alzheimer's disease, or Carbios which is working to find ways to produce and recycle environmentally friendly plastics
- Netherlands: Argenx develops drugs inspired by llama antibodies
And among the most promising European startups in this sector, we can cite:
- Bit Pharma that is specialized in technologies for the administration of specific drugs to the central nervous system
- IamFluidics, an expert in innovative processes to design sustainable products based on high quality microparticles
- LenioBio offers better access to proteins with innovative solutions
- LimmaTech Biologics develops and manufactures new generation pharmaceutical products
- Algalife proceeds to the holistic and sustainable development of new materials that have a positive effect on the environment and the human skin
- And many more...
What are the risks inherent in biotech?
Indeed, despite the major scientific advances that biotechnology makes possible, it presents certain risks that should not be overlooked:
- biological threat (involuntary or deliberate exposure to infectious agents)
- biotechnological contamination (release of genetically modified organisms into the natural environment)
- unanticipated side effects
However, as early as the late 1980s, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights established major ethical principles that served as the basis for national and international regulations. These stipulate in particular that any research or commercial application in biotechs must include a study of physical, chemical and toxicological risks, and be accompanied by solutions to prevent and manage these risks if necessary. And these studies cannot be conducted without the use of Data.
How important is Data in Biotech?
What is Data?
Evolving in an increasingly digitalized world, companies are showing a growing need for data analysis made available to them via mobile applications, website cookies, connected objects, loyalty programs or online surveys.
Data professionals collect and use the information created by economic and human activity to extract a value that can be analyzed and reused: social indicators, weather events, traffic predictions, behavioral trends, etc.
For more information, we invite you to read our dedicated article: Understanding Data starting with the basics.
The place of Data in biotech
Data has very quickly become one of the most important areas that can be applied to biotech. Biotech researchers are often time constrained and it can take several years to achieve the desired result. However, thanks to data analysis, these results can be available much faster since the source of error is more easily identified and corrected. Data can also be used to build predictive models and provide the most relevant information in order to achieve the desired objective. Indeed, the mass of digital data produced by the use of new technologies is called Big Data. It allows companies to better understand their market, to apprehend the different situations they may encounter, and to find the most appropriate solutions according to the cases encountered.
Here are a few concrete examples:
- Biotech and pharmaceutical companies: data modeling helps them examine and filter drugs. Then, on the basis of their analyses, they select the one they conclude is the most effective. The best options are then subjected to clinical tests
- Hospitals: data analysis allows them to monitor and evaluate patient progress and treatment
- Agricultural biotech companies: the tools made available thanks to Data enable them to identify the most efficient crops with a lower environmental impact
Towards a more personalized medicine thanks to Data
The healthcare sector has experienced a veritable explosion of data that is now available to it.
Personalized medicine aims to guarantee each patient the right treatment at the right time, i.e. individual support reinforced by high-precision diagnostics and care adapted to each biological specificity. This new form of medicine, which is gradually developing thanks to Big Data, is also called "4P Medicine":
- Personalized: patient care is based on the specificity of each patient's genetic profile
- Predictive: the risk that a healthy person will develop a disease becomes more easily detectable
- Preventive: the proactive vision made possible by the data leads to a reinforced preservation of everyone's health
- Participatory: the data collected not only helps companies to learn more about the patient, it also helps the patient to learn more about themselves and to become an actor in their own health
Curious to know what Data really is? Practice on our free prep course on Data Analysis!
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