This month we’ve picked a somewhat broad topic for the blog: The future of suppliers of research. What are the things that should be on the mind of the forward-thinking supplier of research use only reagents? Of course, this is largely and necessarily speculation, but hopefully somewhat informed! There are two general, interlinked areas to think about: technologies and markets.
Research reagent technology
We’ll start with some thoughts about technology. We’ve mentioned before about a growing interest in native proteins and antibodies, both from researchers and suppliers, and the benefits they can bring for researchers, and therefore as a unique technical and marketing benefit for suppliers. At the moment, this is being driven by a relatively small number of players on the supplier side. Yet, as the market grows and costs go down, more and more researchers may start demanding them.
One area the biotech industry is showing growing interest in at the moment is antibody-like scaffolds; these are protein scaffolds that combine the binding specificity of monoclonal antibodies with tiny size.
Of course, being so dissimilar to antibodies, the biotech industry is interested in them partly for their relative ease of patenting as pharmaceuticals. However, they can also have specific properties hard to replicate with antibodies that research-use only suppliers might find marketable. This includes cell and tissue penetration.
While the advantages of native proteins are impressive for researchers and antibody-like scaffolds for biotech and pharma, what this really illustrates for suppliers is the importance of being able to offer some advantageous element to researchers to differentiate themselves from the competition.
While the above could be thought as ‘variations on themes’, new techniques can be expected to appear in the coming decades. How they might impact reagent suppliers is difficult to say. A recent example, and a warning, is CRISPR. The whole IP muddle with CRISPR is a warning to suppliers; IP and licencing can be difficult to manage (or fight). Especially where there is a clear commercial advantage.
Research reagent market
While it’s difficult to predict what sectors of the market might continue to grow, or even boom, there is one area of research that remains at the top of many people’s minds: ‘our ageing world’. 80% of the healthcare budgets in the western world are thought to be taken up by diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Furthermore, it’s not likely to change anytime soon. Despite how heavily these diseases drink from budgets, many are yet to have any real, effective therapy developed for them. Researcher continue to dwell in this sector as the potential market for such a drug or intervention would be huge. However, what does that mean for suppliers of research reagents? That those with a keen eye on the academic research and a nimble supply chain stand the greatest chances of capitalising on any new, promising (bio)molecular leads and meeting any new demand.
There will be no shortage of others trying to do the same. Combine this knowledge with some unique differentiating factor, such as the previously mentioned native proteins and antibodies or even a specialised dye for flow cytometry, a nimble supplier could eke out a tidy profit.
Of course, depending on the discovery and where it comes from, licensing issues might hold back any race to market. It might be possible that the market only lets those who can afford to play into the game. Obviously, private companies investing in the development of new product lines get to keep their own IP. However, academic institutions are increasingly pressured to commercialise their own discoveries. While this hasn’t filtered through the academics, current generations are, perhaps, more business conscious than has historically been the case. This means that there may not be an easy path to market new products without first dealing with that institution. This is nothing new. But, it is worth mentioning that an academic or public institution might not have the ability, interest or will to commercialise a specific discovery or application of that discovery.
As such, research reagent companies to keep in touch with tech transfer, or licensing offices as a means of providing unique products. This could be on an ad hoc basis, or, even better, by attempting to agree licensing or ‘first refusal’ agreements as a partner for bringing related products or purposes (i.e. research use only) to market. Finally, with a euro-centric and near-future view there is still Brexit.
At the time of writing, the second meeting has been held between the UK and Europe trying to nail down the terms and agreements of the UK leaving the EU. It is still far from clear what changes in trade deals and tariffs might end up being agreed.
What this means for suppliers is the potential rising overheads for moving products between Europe and the UK. Some may need to take a look at their sales figures and see how they’re competing in the market. Additionally, some might have to predict how new costs might affect the market and how their business models are set up. Is it better to have a legal base in Europe and/or the UK, or to use distributors, for example. These are just a few points to think about for the future. We hope this has given you something useful to think about.