Biotechnology has come a long way since its inception in the early 20th century. Today, it contributes to paradigmatic shifts in healthcare, agriculture, energy, and environmental sustainability, cementing its place as one of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.
According to a new report by Vision Research Reports, the global biotechnology market size was valued at US$ 752.88 billion in 2020, and it is expected to be worth around US$ 3.44 trillion by 2030. The urgent growth in the industry is attributed to the emergence of the SARS-COV-2 infection, the Net Zero by 2050 deadline, and the alarming world population predictions, to name a few, propelling heightened interest and investment in biotech start-ups and supportive government initiatives world-over.
In 2020, the health application segment accounted for the largest share of the biotechnology market at 48.64%, and this trend is expected to persist through 2023. Let’s look at the nine biotech advancements to keep an eye on in 2023 across industries.
Biotech Advancements in Health & Medical
Personalized medicine is fast gaining popularity in the medical world. It involves tailoring medical treatment to an individual’s specific genetic makeup. In 2023, we can expect to see more advances in personalized medicine, including the development of new diagnostic tests and targeted therapies.
- RNA-based therapeutics: The field of mRNA vaccines witnessed significant advancements due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines were the first mRNA vaccines approved and made available globally.
RNA therapy breakthroughs beyond COVID are already here, from AZD-8601, being investigated for the treatment of cardio-metabolic disorders such as diabetes, Remlarsen (MRG-201), under development for the treatment of ‘keloids,’ and mRNA-3927, for the treatment of propionic acidemia, a rare genetic disorder.
RNA therapies are expected to facilitate the efficient and cost-effective development of medicines to address medical conditions that are incurable or too expensive to treat.
McGill University is one of Canada’s leading engines for developing and testing new RNA-based therapies. The university professors are award-winning global scientists like Nahum Sonenberg, who made essential discoveries about mRNA translation to enable the COVID-19 vaccine. Thomas Duchaine also made significant research contributions, uncovering the role of microRNAs.
Two of Moderna’s co-founders, Derrick Rossi and Noubar Afeyan, studied in Canada, University of Toronto and McGill University, respectively.
2. Regenerative Medicine: Bioprinting is embryonic but has received increased attention from academicians and startups worldwide. Bioprinting and tissue reengineering reimagine a future where 3D printing technology uses bio-inks made of living cells and supportive biomaterials to create three-dimensional structures, like complex tissues and organs.
Canadian Aspect Biosystems is one of the top global innovators in this field. They are developing bioprinted tissue therapeutics designed to replace, repair, or supplement biological functions in the body. Most recently, in April 2023, they entered into a US$650M partnership to design disease-modifying treatments for diabetes and obesity.
3. CRISPR-based gene therapies: This specific, efficient and versatile gene-editing technology can modify, delete or correct precise regions of our DNA. It can aim at the source of genetically-defined diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, neuro-disorders, cancers, and sickle-cell diseases.
So far, scientists have used it to reduce the severity of genetic deafness in mice and edited bone marrow cells in mice to treat sickle-cell anemia. However, 2023 expects more clinical trials using CRISPR-based gene therapies and potentially more government think tanks to formulate regulations. However, it is to be noted that using CRISPR on human cells or embryos in Canada is still a criminal offence.
4. Cell Therapies: Cell therapy has shown promise in early clinical trials, but there are still many challenges to overcome, including developing safe and effective delivery methods, ensuring long-term survival and function of transplanted cells, and addressing potential side effects.
As of 2021, Canada has approved 3 cellular therapeutic products for patient use. These include using stem cells to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), Adult B-cell Lymphoma, and Graft V Host disease. There are thousands of other stem cell trials currently ongoing in the country.
Another type of cell therapy is immunotherapy, which involves using immune cells to target and destroy cancer cells. Canada’s cancer immunotherapy market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.1% from a market size of $9 Bn in 2022 to $15.58 Bn in 2030. Rising cancer prevalence and growing adoption of immunotherapy are the major market drivers.
5. AI-enhanced personalized medicine: The industry faces new challenges as healthcare moves from a reactive and generalized “one-size-fits-all” approach to a proactive system. Researchers face an ever-increasing volume of biological data that grows larger daily. Bioinformatics tools to resolve these challenges will be on the rise in 2023.
Researchers require technology to store, transfer, and process biological data accurately and quickly to make drug discovery more efficient. Deep Genomics, a leading artificial intelligence (AI) therapeutics company based in Toronto, has attracted approximately US $224M in funding for its AI workbench that can decode biology to program life-changing medicines.
The Government of Canada also identifies Personalized Medicine as a priority area of strategic importance to the country. The CIHR Personalized Medicine Signature Initiative was launched in January 2012.
Biotech Advancements in Food and Farming
From increasing crop resilience to reducing the environmental impact of animal agriculture, the potential applications of biotech in food and farming are vast and varied. Also, did you know Isha Datar, a Canadian molecular biologist, coined “cellular agriculture” on Facebook in 2015?
6. CRISPR Crops:
Amidst a worsening global food insecurity crisis and a growing population expected to reach almost ten billion people by 2050, 2023 makes sustainable farming using biotechnology a goal to make crops more resilient, nutrient-dense, and easier to grow.
Gene editing creates crop varieties such as wheat and corn that can withstand harsh conditions and produce more grain while maintaining their nutritional value. Scientists have successfully created CRISPR mushrooms that don’t brown easily, improved crop yields with CRISPR rice, investigated saving Cacao trees with CRISPR chocolate, and more!
In Canada, CRISPR/CAS9 is the most frequently used genome editing technique in laboratory research, and it also dominates the current patent landscape for genome editing.
Did you know Prince Edward Island is often known as Food and Biotech Island, home to the Bioscience Manufacturing Incubator, a 20,000 sq/ft facility supporting pilot-scale manufacturing of bio-based products?
7. Cultured Meats: As of late 2022, the cultured meat industry already boasted a roster of 150 companies across six continents. Its several advantages over conventional animal agriculture due usage of significantly fewer resources, the promise of reducing pollution, eutrophication, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will continue to drive innovation in the market in 2023.
Vancouver-based Cult Food Science has built a portfolio of companies around the globe working on cultured foods. Toronto-based Cell Ag Tech, one of their portfolio companies, is focused on producing sustainable cell-cultured seafood.
Additionally, Simon Somogyi, director of Longo’s Food Retail Laboratory, Ontario, has revealed that “massive” investments of $4 billion in lab-grown meat have recently been made by companies like Maple Leaf Foods, Nestlé and JBS.
Biotech Advancements in Environment and Sustainability
Biotech advancements have greatly contributed to environmental and sustainable practices by providing innovative solutions. These advancements will continue to address pressing environmental issues and promote a more sustainable future.
8. Bioplastics: This innovative biotech solution transforms organic material such as corn, potatoes, wood, food waste or lobster shells into biodegradable plastics. Both companies and investors see opportunities in this solution that can help reduce the waste management nightmare for the world.
According to Zion Market Research, the bioplastics market is expected to surge from $10.5 billion in 2021 to approximately $29 billion in 2028. Canadian Biotech company Genecis secured US$6 million in funding from Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) towards developing, scaling, and integrating their novel biotech platform that upcycles organic waste (like discarded packaged food and waste from the municipalities’ green bins) into PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates) sustainable bioplastics.
9. Bioenergy: Modern bioenergy will continue to trend upward, especially since the Net Zero Emissions deadline of 2050 draws closer each year. Modern bioenergy is currently the largest renewable energy source globally, accounting for 55% of renewable energy and over 6% of the global energy supply.
However, more effort is needed in the bioenergy sector to replace fossil fuels and expedite the deployment to achieve the Net Zero Scenario. This would necessitate a 10% yearly increase in deployment between 2021 and 2030 while guaranteeing that bioenergy production does not result in unfavourable social and environmental impacts.
Canada is establishing more ‘energy plantations’ to ‘grow biomass.’ Special harvesting technologies and post-harvest treatments have been developed, and Canadian Forest Service (CFS) research on identifying more sources of both existing and new biomass.
Canada is one of 17 countries that participate in the International Energy Agency (IEA) Bioenergy research activities. We are involved in nine bioenergy tasks, including IEA Bioenergy Task 43, Biomass Feedstocks for Energy Markets.
Canada, a global leader in Biotech
Canada has been at the forefront of the global biotech industry for years, making strides in areas such as genomics, stem cell and regenerative medicine, and metabolic disorders like diabetes with the discovery of insulin. With a robust research network, including hospitals, universities, government labs, and private companies, Canada has experienced a 77.2% growth in biotech companies in the past two decades, with hundreds of small start-ups working to bring scientific discoveries to market.
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