As is so often the case, the year has flown by, and it’s once again time to reflect on some of the key events which have impacted PSL Alliance members and the biotechnology industry as a whole during the past twelve months. While 2017 has been a year of change following the UK’s decision to leave the EU, it has also seen significant scientific advances; these have been prominent in the fields of genetic engineering, regenerative medicine and cryo-electron microscopy to name but a few.
2017 got off to a positive start with the launch of the Government’s industrial strategy green paper in January, which identified the life sciences industry as a dominant economic sector within the UK and offered the promise of increased Government funding. To support global growth and help international companies to enter the rapidly developing Chinese market, PSL welcomed Fan Sha to our team. Based in China, Fan speaks fluent English and offers a wealth of experience in the life sciences industry; not only will he facilitate the formation of a Chinese office, but he can assist with distribution and manufacturing services, expedite the attendance of life science exhibitions or conferences in China, and plenty more besides.
February was a strong month for genetic engineering with, among many others, publications describing the development of the smallest Cas9 orthologue to date, the use of bacterial genes to curb mosquito populations and the advancement of gene therapy approaches which included a key study demonstrating unprecedented recovery of inner ear function in a murine model of genetic deafness. Stem cell technology hit the news headlines in March when a patient was successfully treated with laboratory-generated induced pluripotent stem cells to protect her eyesight from age-related macular degeneration, while in April two well-established compounds (trazodone hydrochloride, a licensed antidepressant, and dibenzoylmethane, a natural dietary compound) were repurposed and shown to block the death of brain cells in murine models of neurodegeneration, providing hope to thousands of Alzheimer’s Disease patients worldwide. The field of antibiotic discovery received some positive news in May when researchers modified vancomycin in a bid to combat the rapid emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria; antibiotic resistance is now at crisis point, with the implementation of new policies and increased research essential to the effective treatment of bacterial infections.
While June can be a quiet month for many, this was certainly not the case for the life sciences industry or for PSL. We held our Pivotal Links networking event during the second half of the month, which was attended by some of the largest companies in the industry; this year we had representation from the UK, Americas, Europe and Asia. Pivotal Links is the only business to business meeting dedicated specifically to life science reagents, allowing companies to liaise with distributors, OEM Partners, collaborators, investors, industry experts and industry-affiliated businesses. Following the success of this year’s occasion, we have already opened registration for the 2018 event.
Genetic engineering returned to the headlines in July, with the leak of a publication (which was not due for release until August) describing the use of CRISPR/Cas9 to correct a pathogenic gene mutation in human embryos. Although this work is controversial, with many detractors fearing it may pave the way to the production of “designer babies”, the research provides clear evidence that it is possible to safely correct defective genes which give rise to heritable diseases. Another publication which distracted many of us during July described a study which demonstrated the use of slug slime as a natural adhesive with huge potential for use in human surgery.
There was further encouraging news from the Government in August with the announcement of a £160 million funding boost for the British life sciences industry, a topic which we discussed in our blog, while in September the Zika virus was found to have a redeeming feature when it exhibited oncolytic activity against glioblastoma stem cells. Infection with Zika during pregnancy can result in severe birth defects including microcephaly, with the 2015 epidemic causing several key athletes to pull out of the 2016 Rio Olympics and Paralympic Games, yet in human cell cultures the virus has been shown to preferentially target glioblastoma stem cells over healthy neuronal cells, signifying potential therapeutic efficacy for glioblastoma patients.
The winners of the Nobel Prize were announced in October; while in November the Government surprised us with news of its biggest ever increase in R&D investment, aiming to boost spending on R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Further scientific breakthroughs are helping 2017 to end on a high with, for example, the effective use of monoclonal antibodies to treat a migraine. With increased funding, and exciting new research being published every week, the field of biotechnology continues to flourish, yet we will all be keeping a close eye on the advancement of Brexit and its impact on our industry as 2018 arrives.