Jeff Swiatek got an opportunity to interview Ronald D. Henriksen, an innovator and former Lilly executive who was there when biotechnology revolution started in 1976 and when world’s leading biotech engineers came together for comparing their notes at Eli Lilly. In 1993 Henriksen left Lilly and started hi career in venture financing and tech startups. Now he is the CEO of two biotech startups called Semafore Pharmaceuticals and EndGenitor Technologies. This an intensive interview which has focused around the biotechnology field and his work involved. To read the whole interview click here.
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BASF undertakes investment in new energy generation technology research activities in the areas of energy management and industrial biotechnology. In order to further its interests BASF is in the process of investing 3 million in LUCA Technologies. LUCA is involved in using microorganisms for reactivating the production of methane gas from fuels such as oil or coal. LUCA has plans for developing Geobioreactors into mass production methane farms which would meet the growing demand for this energy. Robert Pfeiffer, President and CEO of LUCA Technologies said: We are excited that a leading international chemical company with the stature of BASF shares our vision of this future technology. The new strategic partnership will accelerate product development to help meet the growing demands of a $150 billion United States domestic natural gas market. The funds would be used by LUCA for continuing its R&D activities in the lab and supporting testing of the technology in coal beds on its own or through partnerships with energy companies.
Scientific and financial risks are preventing a number of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies from making huge investments with their own funds in AIDS vaccine research. Companies fear that they might not be able to recover their long term investment in drug research as HIV is quite prevalent in developing countries which are unable to afford such costly treatments. Though there has been an increase in worldwide funding for AIDS and also philanthropic and federal funding has seen a rise but investment from the private sector has decreased. There is an increased requirement for the participation of industry in the fight against AIDS as it involves a disciplined approach in project management and clinical trials.
The regulatory authority for biotechnology crops in India, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has stated that India has witnessed an increase in the area under plantation with GM insect protected cotton from 1.2 million hectares to 3.2 million hectares in 2005. This variety of cotton has a protein from Bacillus thuringiensis which imparts protection to cotton plants from specific lepidopteron insect pests. Farmers in India were earlier facing losses due to insect pests and up till the year 2002 chemical control was considered to be the only option for controlling the pests. This is what one of the Indian farmer Eknath Shivram Pandit had to say abut GM cotton: It is cost-effective. We have to spray just 2 or 3 times. But with the other seeds, the worms would attack, and we had to spray at least 15 to 20 times.
Realizing the needs of the biotechnology sector in Flanders, Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) is coming up with a new bio-incubator in the technology park in Zwijnaarde. The new bio-incubator would enable to start up new Flemish companies attract a number of companies to Flanders. There is space for around hundred new jobs in knowledge economy. With two bio-incubators, VIB would be offering R&D-intensive companies in the life sciences with a chance for starting up quickly in an up to date infrastructure. Since the permits have already been procured the companies would get a very good start. The first bio incubator came up in 2000. The occupancy rate for both the incubators is quite good which reflects a positive trend for the sector.
As per a report by Robert Wisner of Iowa State University introduction of GM wheat in U.S. would hit the export trade of the country in durum and hard red spring wheat and would also affect the prices of these variety of wheat. The report further stated that introduction of fusarium-resistant GM wheat would present similar problems and the demand for these varieties of wheat has dipped following the introduction of non-GM varieties with fusarium resistance. The report also stated that introduction of GM wheat could not reverse the current downward trend in states. This trend is being attributed to U.S agricultural policy and increased production of soy and corn for biofuel production. .
A Halifax based biotech company has been successful in destroying huge cancer tumors in mice with their new vaccine technology. The company called ImmunoVaccine Technologies is soon expected to start Phase I clinical trials of its technology on human beings. In 2005 the company was voted as the most promising early stage biotech company in Canada. The vaccine technology developed by the company triggers a rapid immune response which enhances the effectiveness of existing vaccines. This technology can also be put to use for fighting infectious diseases and as of now is being used commercially in the field of veterinary medicine. Mr. Lowe said: These mice, within 14 days, became totally healthy – all tumours removed. We kept the mice for a year. We re-injected them with cancer antigens and no new cancers formed, and these mice had huge tumours and were really sick.
Do you know that lung cancer kills most among other forms of cancer and just around five percent of the patients survive for more than five years? Up till now all efforts to come with a solution for this menace have failed and this disease has not seen any change in the death rate for more than a decade. This trend could change as an experimental drug has been discovered which could lengthen the lives of lung cancer patients by a third. The experimental drug has been discovered by Antisoma which is a UK biotechnology company and it works by destroying blood vessels which supply solid tumors on which the tumors depend for survival and growth. Up till now the drug has shown satisfactory results.
In a recent development, Cytos Biotechnology has created a drug called CYT003-QbG10 which bamboozles the body into changing tactics in order to focus on tackling the larger threats rather production of allergic reactions to less harmful things. Preliminary trials which were conducted on patients suffering from hay fever suggested that grass pollen was reduced a hundredfold. The company claimed that the patients remained symptom free up till eight months after the therapy though it could not confirm whether the relief would be permanent. If successful it could help in curing common allergies such as pollen, asthma and hayfever which affects millions of people worldwide.
With every country trying to make a mark in the field of biotechnology, South Africa has a different story to tell. South Africa’s private sector seems to lag behind the public sector on R&D in the biotechnology sector. There are facts to prove this. Between the year 2001 and 2005, just fifty three biotechnology patent applications were received. Most of the applications came from the Agricultural Research Council, University of Cape Town, CSIR and the Institute for Animal Science and Health Research. The reason behind this could be that since biotechnology was new to South Africa therefore most of the private sector was closely working in association with the pharma sector.