The past few years years have seen leaps and strides of innovation as scientists have worked to develop and produce new mRNA vaccinations and made major developments in biotech research. During this time, they’ve also faced challenges. Ongoing supply chain disruptions, the Great Resignation, and the pandemic have impacted biotech labs and researchers greatly, forcing lab managers and PIs to get creative with lab supply purchasing, experiment planning, and the use of technology in order to maintain their research schedules.
“The pace of innovation specific to COVID to be able to develop both medicines related to antibodies as well as vaccines is just staggering. Those of us in the industry are in awe of the innovation we’re witnessing on a daily basis. We’ve been behind in the use of automation, software, and AI that can make our industry more efficient — that’s where we’re headed,” says Michelle Dipp, Cofounder and Managing Partner, Biospring Partners on the This is ZAGENO podcast.
At the start of 2022, current biotech research projects are exploring advancements in medicine, vaccines, the human body and treatment of disease, bacteria and immunology, and viruses like the Coronavirus that affected the globe in ways we couldn’t have anticipated.
As Michelle explained, the research that’s happening is changing, and so is the way that scientists conduct it. Influenced by both B2C ecommerce and the growing dependence on remote and cloud-based working, biotech labs are undergoing digital transformations. This means more software, AI, and automation in the lab, along with modern digital procurement strategies and integrated systems for lab operations.
Here are some of the top biotech research trends and recent biotech research papers that are changing the world of science and leading to innovation in life sciences.
Science journals have never been more popular as they’ve been in the past several years. Resonating with the general public, biotech research papers have found their way into the hands and social media streams of interested citizens and scientists alike.
As we look to the most credible, peer-reviewed sources for recent innovations like PubMed, the Journal of Biotechnology, BioTech, and Biotechnology Journal, the trending themes in biotech research are in direct response to COVID-19, like vaccine development, respiratory virus research, and RNA-based pharmaceuticals. Additionally, there have been major advances in metabolism and the human microbiome, as well as further exploration in microvesicles.
All of the research happening has the potential to change millions of people’s quality of life, prevent and treat illnesses that currently have high mortality rates, and change healthcare around the world.
Here's what's happening in biotech research.
1. Vaccine Development
mRNA vaccine development has been in the works since 1989 and was accelerated in recent years to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers like Maruggi, Zhang, Li, Ulmer, Yu and their team believe that mRNA vaccines could change infectious disease control as we know it as a prophylactic means of disease prevention for diseases like HIV, Zika, and the flu.
Recent developments in mRNA research from Pardi, Hogan, and Weissman in 2020 explored the ways that mRNA vaccines can combat certain cancers and infectious pathogens that were previously resistant to existing vaccine options.
With new access to data from the 3.4 billion+ COVID-19 mRNA vaccines that have been administered worldwide, researchers have been able to determine the risks associated with mRNA vaccines, which brings forward new topics for research in the medical and pharmaceutical sides of the biotech industry. mRNA vaccines are faster to develop and can help prevent more diseases than traditional vaccine methods.
2. Respiratory Viruses
Acute respiratory diseases (ARDs) like those caused by the SARS-CoV pathogen or the influenza virus lead to morbidity and mortality, and can lead to pneumonia, which can be fatal for immunocompromised or elderly patients — they represent a huge impact to human society.
Identifying the cause of ARDs and identifying viral infections from COVID-19 has become an issue of public health and safety, leading research groups like Zhang, Wang, and team to seek out more accurate and faster ways to detect respiratory viruses.
Understanding these respiratory virus mechanisms can help lead to better protection, prevention, and treatments for respiratory viruses, which have a mortality rate of up to 78%.
3. RNA-based Therapeutics
RNA-based treatments like modified non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), microRNAs (miRNAs), and others have been developed and studied by teams like Feng, Patil, et al (2021) to treat various diseases and conditions, including pancreatic cancer, acute renal failure, acute kidney injuries, diabetic macular edema, and advanced solid tumors.
In 2022, we expect to see further development of RNA-based therapeutics, like CAR T cells and other gene/cell therapeutics, therapeutic antibodies, and small molecular drugs to treat even more diseases and for prophylactic purposes as well.
4. Microvesicles + Extracellular Vesicles
Microvesicles are coming to light due to their involvement in transporting mRNA, miRNA, and proteins — but how else might they support the human body? There are unknown functions of microvesicles and other extracellular vesicles that have yet to be discovered.
In 2020, Ratajczak and Ratajczak found that understanding microvesicles (or exosomes, microparticles) could mean understanding cell-to-cell communication, and their research showed that extracellular vesicles could transfer mRNA and proteins and modify stem cells ex vivo. This year, we look forward to seeing more research on what these tiny cell parts can do.
5. Metabolism in Cancers + Other Diseases
Metabolism is the process of energy conversion in organisms and it represents the chemical reactions that sustain life. Recent research on metabolism in cancers and in immune cells has uncovered new ways to approach treatment and prevention of certain illnesses.
Take a look at Matsushita, Nakagawa, and Koike’s (2021) research on lipid metabolism in oncology and how recent advances in lipidomics technology and mass spectrometry have opened the door for new analysis of lipid profiles of certain cancers.
6. The Human Microbiome
The human microbiome hosts bacteria, microorganisms, and other naturally-occurring flora that can help us and harm us. Diet, stress, drugs, and other factors shape the microbiome, leading to inflammation and an immune response of cytokines. Recent machine learning and statistical analyses of microbiome data, like that of Indias, Lahti, Nedyalkova, and team (2021) are getting smarter and smarter by removing variables and providing ways to test new hypotheses using statistical modeling.
With a deeper understanding of the microbiome, researchers like David Sinclair have shown that lifestyle changes can actually help people live healthier lives for longer. Sinclair’s lab is at the forefront of aging research and its impact on healthcare — and it’s all rooted in biotechnology and life science experiments.
Recent updates to ICD-11 and its classification of aging as a disease have led to debate, with Sinclair and colleagues advocating for the ongoing paradigm shift that biological age and chronological age are not synonymous. The implications for longevity and aging research from a funding perspective will be impacted by WHO and NIH decisions, and we anticipate seeing more biotech research on topics like epigenetics, metabolism, mitochondrial dysfunction, reproduction, and stem cell developments in the coming years.
Biotech research can change humankind, and lead to a better quality of life for generations to come. Subscribe to the ZAGENO blog to keep up with the latest topics in biotech and life sciences research and find the tech that supports biotech lab managers and PIs in their ongoing work.