Biotechnology is in the firing line again and this time in Mexico. In a recent move, Mexico has stopped Monsanto and other biotechnology companies from planting GM corn. Environmentalists have welcomed this step as they feel that this would prevent the contamination of native varieties of corn in the country. On the other hand supporters of biotechnology said that the country would not be able to gain from plants which could not only prevent use of herbicide and pesticide but also offer gains for the local farmers. They further said that GM corn was being planted in a number of countries around the world and it was offering gains not only to the farmers but also to the environment. I believe that this is a temporary decision as MNCs would pressurize them into changing it and GM corns would ultimately find a place in the fields of Mexico.
The high cost of biotechnology drugs has been pinching the public and biotechnology companies realizing this are making an effort towards making these products more affordable. Here are some of the examples which would make you believe what I am saying. Amgen has announced that that it would be limiting out of pocket expenses for the patient for its colorectal drug, Vectibix to five percent of their annual incomes whereas recently Genentech announced that it would be limiting the costs for its cancer treatment to $55,000 annually. I think that it is a welcome step and it would certainly go a long way in increasing the popularity of biotechnology.
This can be considered as an exciting development in the field of biotechnology. We all know that Alzheimer is a disease for which there is still not a permanent cure but Enkam Pharmaceuticals which is a small Danish firm with a workforce of just fourteen people has come out with a drug called FGL which has been found out to be effective in the treatment of Alzheimer patients. This drug has been found out to be effective in improving memory and re-establishing spoilt nerve cells. It is different from other drugs available in the market as these are concerned with removing the protein which is thought to cause Alzheimer. It is being contemplated whether this drug would be able to enter the markets as figures tell that there is just a five to ten percent chance that a new drug is able to make it to the shelves. The major factor which comes against it is the return factor and due to this at times effective drugs fails to reach to the people.
A company named Replidyne wanted to get fast track approval for its faropenem medoxomil drug but suffered a shock when FDA said that the company should further conduct tests for the drug rather than getting it approved in a fast track manner. This drug can be used in treating pneumonia, sinusitis, chronic bronchitis and other types of skin infections. FDA wants an exhaustive study to be conducted and termed the study conducted by the company to be insufficient for getting approval. The company was hopeful that it would easily get the approval of FDA. The probable reason was that FDA has changed its requirements since it started the approval process and now wants companies to prove that their drug is not only effective but superior to the alternatives available in the market. I believe that it a correct move by FDA because a number of drugs are being developed under the umbrella of biotechnology and most of them have not been able to meet the expectations. It seems FDA wants to play safe.
Which sector do you think attracts the most venture capital? Software? If your answer is software then you are wrong as it has been displaced by biotechnology. This was revealed in a survey conducted by MoneyTree. In the third quarter biotechnology attracted $1.14 billion worth of venture capital as compared to $1.09 billion by the software industry. For the past decade software was the first love of venture capitalists and it was just once in 2003 that biotechnology lead the scene. This trend demonstrates that the industry is maturing and consolidating. With the interest of capitalists declining in the software industry they are moving to other sectors such as internet, alternative energy, medical devices, biotechnology etc. Certainly this trend would definitely infuse confidence in this technology.
Until and unless there is a proper policy on a technology a country cannot make headway in it. Realizing this government of Kenya has approved a policy on biotechnology. This policy is concerned with how R&D and applications are to be undertaken in this field. The policy has outlined the safety procedures which need to be followed with respect to R&D and the products to be produced using biotechnology. The country has realized the role that biotechnology could play in improving food security, reducing poverty and conserving biodiversity and environment. The policy states that industry and trade are the major areas where biotechnology can be applied. Besides ensuring development the policy also states strong concerns regarding bio safety and the environment. Kenya has done a wonderful work by coming out with proper guidelines as it would certainly help nor only the country but also the technology.
GM grapes are caught among protests from winemakers in South Africa. Top winemakers in South Africa are protesting the genetically modified Chardonnay wine as they want the wines to remain ‘pure’. Wine makers are against it as they feel that their original grapes might get contaminated by the GM grape seeds. Called as ‘super grapes’, they are already inside a greenhouse at the University of Stellenbosch and would be grown at the experimental farm of the university. The trials would first be requiring the nod from the government’s Executive Council on Genetically Modified Organisms which would be debating the matter. This is not something different as already there are concerns regarding the genetically modified foods such as soya, maize and cotton which is grown in South Africa. The concern is not regarding whether the technology should be accepted or rejected but whether it is relevant or not and the government must do something in this regard.
In a recent development, EU countries are testing all U.S. long grain rice imports to ensure that these varieties have not been genetically modified illegally. Each and every U.S. consignment would be tested to ensure that the variety is absolutely safe. The new rules would be implemented in a few days. The EU nations have taken the action after it was reported that a banned genetically modified long grain rice strain called Liberty Link Rice 601 might have landed up in the consignment headed towards EU countries. These tests had to be done as both U.S. and EU had failed to agree on how to check whether the rice being imported was legal or not. The cost of testing would have to be borne by the exporter.
This new chemical compound could result in the development of a drug treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. All thanks to the scientists at University of Liverpool who created this new chemical compound. For this purpose long chain sugars called Heparan Sulphates was used for producing a new compound which could prevent the formation of clumps of small proteins that formed in the brain. These clumps have been found out to interfere with the normal functioning of the cells which leads to progressive memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease. As Per Professor Jerry Turnbull: We have developed a new class of compounds called ‘engineered heparins’ that could possibly be developed into drugs to stop A-beta peptides in the brain from forming and for the first time treat the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s. It is expected that the discovery of HS sugars might play a pivotal role in limiting the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The area of injectable generic drugs presents a host of opportunities for industry planners and venture capitalists. Health payers have been moving towards generic substitution and this combined with low commercialization of new drugs has enabled this market to register double digit growth. Most of the growth has been witnessed in mainstream drugs coupled with tablet administration and with oversupply in some areas this has led to falling margins for the generic companies. The business of injectable generic business has bypassed this trend as very few companies are producing injectables but this coupled with high prices and the market opportunities presented is expected to increase its attractiveness to a number of companies.