Biotech Slumps as Investors Pull Out

The NASDAQ Biotech Index is slumping in February, after a sustained 11% just last month. This rapid decline has been attributed to nervous investors, who have pulled $1.2 billion out of health care and biotech funds last week- bringing the NBI down 8.2% since the start of the month.

The Biotech Index isn’t alone in suffering this unpredicted fall; the stocks of all tech companies are slipping, and the Nasdaq Composite- which is heavily tied to the stocks of tech companies- is down 8.24%. Not altogether coincidentally, earlier this week, the Dow suffered its worst fall in six years, losing over 4% in a single day, triggering a sell-off around the world. The S&P 500 tanked 100 points Thursday by close, down 3.75%.





Scientists Identify Unknown Immune Defense Mechanisms in Bacteria

The most famous bacterial immune mechanism today has been discussed on this site multiple times: CRISPR. Because of its function as a natural gene editor, I’ve talked about its enormous potential in bioengineering and gene technology. CRISPR, however, is just one element of many complex immune systems. Now, Prof. Rotem Sorek and his team at the Weizmann Institute of Science have now revealed the existence of 10 previously unknown immune defense mechanisms in bacteria. “The systems we discovered are unlike anything we had seen before,” says Sorek. “But among them, we think, are one or two that might have the potential to increase the gene-editing toolbox, and others that point to the origins of the human immune system.” The results of their study were recently published in Science.

CRISPR isn’t the only defense mechanism that bacteria possess in order to protect themselves against phages; in fact, many of these infectious species have “anti-CRISPR” proteins that negate CRISPR defensive activity. This, obviously, would suggest that there are other systems that come into play. After narrowing down possible defense genes using a specialized algorithm that targets genes with “statistical signatures”, researchers used synthetic biology to see if the discovered defense system was viable. Out of the various systems the researchers examined, 10 strongly protected the lab bacteria from infection, thus identifying them as new immune defense systems.

“The fact that we managed to find 10 new bacterial defense systems implies there are even more out there,” says Sorek. “My lab is continuing to search for new ones. In addition, we are starting to focus on several of the more promising ones to understand how they function.”

According to Sorek, the research expands beyond bacteria- “Every immune system, by definition, needs to target invading elements in a very specific yet flexible way, and we can use this targeting for biotechnological purposes — as we’ve done with CRISPR and with restriction enzymes before it. Any one of the new systems we found might be the next gene-editing tool — or perhaps even the foundation of even more exciting molecular tools,” says Sorek.




German Startup Aims to Revolutionize the Peptide Market

Currently the peptide market is dominated by commercial firms such as Bachem, CordenPharma, and Polypeptide Laboratories. All three firms specialize in peptide production- long chains of amino acids that typically play a large role in drugs. As of now, the current method for peptide synthesis costs an average of $1.2 million per kg.

Why is it so expensive? Well, the process of peptide synthesis is an arduous and laborious one. The biotech production of peptides has been limited (as opposed to enzymes or proteins) due to 3 main factors: the presence of peptide-destroying proteases, aggregation of peptides that complicates downstream processing, and the toxic effects of peptides on the production host. As such, peptides are commercially produced through multiple steps in which amino acids are linked together. The coupling reaction is required for each amino acid- hence the expensive production cost.

 Numaferm, a German startup, believes it can reduce the cost to between $50,000 and $100,000.

Obviously this enormous cost differential would pose a great threat to the aforementioned big peptide corporations, as well as providing Numaferm with an enormous advantage in dominating the peptide market. According to Numaferm, the goal of the company’s new technology is to make peptides cheap enough to be utilized profitably in consumer products such as cosmetics and paints in a matter of 2-3 years.


It appears as if investors are convinced of Numaferm’s budding technology- Evonik, a German chemical industries company, has reportedly invested a hefty $10 million into Numaferm’s peptide technology.

“Numaferm’s technology is highly disruptive. We expect existing markets to change dramatically and new markets to develop,” says Bernhard Mohr, head of venture capital at Evonik. “A strategic fit with Evonik’s existing technology, a strong scientific background and a dedicated team—that is what we are looking for in a start-up. Numaferm has it all.”


Are GMOs Good or Bad?

Kurzgesagt- In a Nutshell is one of my favorite YouTube channels for learning about the latest news in science in an extremely simple and easy-to-follow way. I watched this video around a year ago, but have decided to post it on this blog as it seems that the GMO controversy is starting to flare up again recently.


Medigene Gets OK For First Trial of T-cell Receptor Therapy

Medigene has been approved for its first human clinical trials designed to test its T cell receptor (TCR) modified T cell therapy MDG1011. According to a recent press release, the German-based biotechnology firm will start a combined phase 1/2 safety and feasibility trial of the T-cell receptor (TCR) cancer immunotherapy in about 92 patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome or multiple myeloma “within the coming weeks.”

According to experts in the field, Medigene’s TCR approach has an advantage over other cell-based immunotherapeutic treatments such as CAR-T due to its greater specificity for target proteins. Many in the field are also interested in Medigene’s new technology- BlueBird Bio cut a TCR-focused deal with Medigene back in 2016.


“Attaining these approvals for MDG1011 is an important step towards the start of our clinical trial, and a further validation of our research and product development work,” commented Kai Pinkernell, M.D., Medigene’s chief medical officer.

“With our specific study design, we are able to evaluate our T cell therapy simultaneously in various diseases and to generate data in three hematological indications in parallel.”



2017: A Biotech Year in Review

What happened in the field of biotechnology in 2017? Here are some crucial moments from the past year.

The Opioid Crisis Got Worse

“Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. are at an all-time high, and opioids are to blame. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, over 64,000 people died from overdoses in 2016, mostly from opioid painkillers, heroin, and synthetic analogs. That toll cranked up the pressure this year on politicians, law enforcement, and drug companies to respond to the epidemic’s spread.”

Here’s an article from my blog that was published in August:

Drug Prices Were a Big Focus

“Neither the government nor “the court of public opinion will tolerate bad behavior anymore,” says Thomas Goss, a senior vice president at the consultancy Boston Healthcare Associates.”

Trump, in his first news conference as president-elect, also vowed to shake up drug prices and described pharmaceutical companies as “getting away with murder.”

Gene Therapy Finally Came of Age

“Spark and BioMarin Pharmaceutical both have advanced gene-therapy programs to restore genes for the missing blood-clotting proteins in people with hemophilia. Across the industry, over 300 gene-therapy trials are ongoing, and hundreds more are recruiting. “What used to be considered a science experiment is about to become reality,” says AveXis CEO Sean Nolan.”

CAR-T Immunotherapy Took Off

“In a sweeping success for cancer immunotherapy this year, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved the first two treatments that use a patient’s own genetically engineered cells to combat specific kinds of blood cancer. Both new drugs are CAR T-cell immunotherapies, created by injecting an individual’s T cells with DNA that encodes a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). The CAR proteins jut from the immune cells’ surfaces and direct them to seek and destroy tumor cells.”


StemBioSys Announces New European Distributor for Stem Cell Research Products

StemBioSys Inc. is a San Antonio-based biomedical company that specializes in the manufacturing of advanced stem cell technologies for the ever-growing market of regenerative medicine. A few days ago, it announced that it had entered into an agreement with Caltag Medsystems Ltd. (a UK -based company that supplies research reagents for multiple cell-related products) to distribute and market StemBioSys products internationally, in the EU. 

“Europe is one of the leading areas in stem cell research and we are delighted to have the opportunity to expand access to this market though our partnership with Caltag,” Hutchen said. “Caltag is a recognized life science tool company in the UK and across Europe with deep technical expertise. Caltag carries a full range of complementary products and we are very excited to announce them as our new distributor in these markets. Europe has many progressive research institutions and key opinion leaders in stem cell research. Making our novel products readily available to these groups should foster new discoveries in this rapidly progressing field.”

Jill Smith, Chief Operating Officer of Caltag, said, “We are delighted to represent StemBioSys in Europe, and believe this will be a long and fruitful relationship for both companies. The novel StemBioSys product offering complements the cell and tissue range already offered by Caltag Medsystems, allowing a 3D cell culture solution to be delivered to scientists Europe wide”