Looking forward: Trends in biopharmaceuticals
Gaurav Kaushik, MD and CEO, Meteoric Biopharma, explains how the biopharma industry is going to witness a rise in the upcoming years
Biopharma industry has been witnessing extensive transformation on the back of innovation, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This transformation is not merely limited to drug formulations, but extends right from the drug-discovery stage to development and patient outcomes. With large pharma companies making big-time investments into research and development and bioprocessing, it is likely to spur further growth in the biopharma segment.
In this backdrop, the landscape of biopharma industry continues to evolve driven by internal as well as external factors in combination with the technological transformation that industries across the board are experiencing. Going forward, looking at the buoyancy in the industry, one can expect a rise in the number of biopharma products, especially biosimilars, bio generics, synthetic biology and personalised medicines in the field of bio actives and nutraceuticals. Besides, looking at the growth prospects, companies and government vie nodal agencies are also likely to pump in more funds into research and development initiatives and manufacturing.
Digital transformation is catching up with the pharma industry as the new imperative. With prevalent manufacturing methods entailing excessive manual labour and human intervention, it results into higher costs and mars efficiencies. Advanced technologies such as robotics, data analytics, data visualisation, cognitive agents, language processing, etc have the potential to drastically reduce human intervention, minimise errors, inefficiencies and costs. This also frees up human intelligence and resources for improved tasks and spur innovation. One of the key trends that the biopharma industry is likely to see is wide-scale adoption of automated manufacturing, replacing humans to perform high-volume, repetitive mundane tasks and business processes with greater efficiency, accuracy and speed. In the area of research and development, lab automation, blockchain, advanced data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) can considerably reduce drug discovery timelines and also bring down the time-to-market of drugs. With end-to-end automation, biopharma manufacturers will be able to conduct drug discovery experiments with exceptional accuracy and precision, data-driven decisions as well as absolute transparency and reproducibility. In addition to AI and ML, cloud and edge computing, digital twins, etc are also gaining popularity, albeit at an early phase of development.
Green on the anvil
The imperative to turn to sustainable practices is pushing many pharma players to switch to greener options for manufacturing biologics. Traditionally, pharma manufacturers use mammalian cell cultures to manufacture large complex proteins for therapeutic drugs. However, with an exponential rise in demand for biopharmaceuticals worldwide, there can be considerable pressure on animal-based resources, the scope of expansion of which remains limited due to high costs and limited scalability. In this context, plants such as tobacco, duckweed, moss and alfalfa are being widely used to replace animal-based cell cultures to manufacture biologics. This trend is expected to continue even as reports suggest that the global plant-based biologics market is expected to grow rapidly on the back of technological developments at a healthy CAGR of 6.1 per cent between 2019-2026.
Supply chain disruptions have been a cause of worry for many global pharma manufacturers. Supply chains of many active pharma ingredients continue to be fragile, unpredictable, expensive and inefficient, leading to inordinate delays in production timelines. In order to build more resilient and reliable supply chains of key ingredients, many pharma companies are exploring the option of outsourcing of bioprocessing to developing countries such as China, India and Vietnam owing to their imminent advantages – low cost of manufacturing, easy availability of inexpensive labour and raw materials, research and development acumen, etc. Pharma manufacturers with limited resources to build their own manufacturing facilities are likely to explore these developing nations for offloading some of their manufacturing activities. In fact, even large pharma companies are finding it strategically expedient to switch to contract manufacturing at these sites across developing countries, given the wide-scale advantages. Biopharma manufacturing being a highly complex process that requires specialised equipment and skills, pharma players are finding it lucrative to outsource these activities instead of building these capabilities in-house.
Cellular and gene therapy
Cell and gene therapy-related research and development is one of the most challenging, yet, dynamic segments that is fast-gaining adoption among pharma manufacturers. There is also considerable interest in RNA technologies on account of their potential to considerably reduce drug development timelines as well as costs. These therapies are likely to be at the heart of healthcare innovation in the days to come, with the potential to cure life-threatening diseases such as cancer and genetic disorders. The industry is still in its nascent stage, being a completely new field of technology, however, there is immense growth potential in this upcoming segment, and is one segment that is likely to drive much action in the days to come.