2014 was a great year for Biotech. I took a look back on the past year, and here I present my most popular stories.
5. World’s first synthetic enzyme
A team of researchers affiliated to academic institutions in the UK, USA, Belgium and France have created the world’s first enzymes from artificial genetic material that does not exist outside the lab. The research was published last December in the journal Nature, and promises to be the starting point for the development of a new generation of drugs and diagnostics. The findings were based on previous work in which scientists created synthetic genetic polymers known as XNAs, being then used for creation of XNAzymes.
4. First gene therapy available
Gene therapy is a possible way to fix a genetic problem at its source, and promises to help diseased tissues and organs work properly. After several years of research, the Dutch-based company UniQure announced in 2012 that its gene therapy drug Glybera became the first one approved in Europe. This medicine aims to treat an ultra-rare genetic disease called lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD) that clogs the blood with fat. However, Glybera is only available now to who is able to pay for it, since last November it was set to go on sale in Germany with a $1.1 million euros price tag, a new record for a medicine to treat a rare disease.
3. HIV cure research
The past year was not so good in what concerns research for cure of HIV-infection/AIDS. The first disappointing news emerged last July when scientists announced that the “Mississippi baby”, a child born with HIV and “functionally cured” in 2013, had detectable levels of the virus in her blood. Also in July, six world’s leading HIV/AIDS researchers and activists died en route to a conference when their plane was shot down over Ukraine. In December, six patients (including four European) given blood-cell transplants similar to one that cured a man known as “Berlin patient” have failed, and all died.
Despite the stream of bad news, promising results were obtained in 2014, namely the debut of a treatment making immune cells resistant to HIV by editing their DNA.
2. Record in number of IPOs for Biotech companies
A record of 71 biotech companies launched IPOs this year, raising almost $5 billion. That’s about double last year’s volume and activity in this field. And this time, USA is not alone. Europe is playing an important role in this record and especially in France and UK. In the first half of 2014, 12 French companies entered the market (i.e. Oncodesign, Genticell, Supersonic Imagine, Crossject, Theraclion…) and DBV Technologie was the first French Biotech to enter the NASDAQ. During the same year, Circassia, a UK based company, managed to raise $332 million for its IPO, a record in the UK. 2014 was an incredible year for biotechs, now let’s see if the bubble will grow of burst.
1. Ebola outbreak
The Ebola virus disease outbreak occurred during 2014 in West Africa is the largest in history, with approximately 19,500 total cases and more than 7,000 deaths. Supportive care-rehydration and treatment along with correct prevention and outbreak control, improves survival rate to the disease. To date, no proven treatment is available for Ebola, and thus the European Medicines Agency (EMA) together with other institutions have been encouraging the development of treatments or vaccines to fight this particularly severe illness. Resulting from the appeal, seven drugs for Ebola treatment are currently under review by the EMA. Besides, two potential candidate vaccines are already being tested in humans. For more details, you can read our two reviews about this hot subject Ebola, the true story and Ebola, the fever falls.