Biotechnology and Medicine

Welcome to Part II of a series of blogs about biotechnology. The first piece discussed a general yet scientifically accurate definition of biotechnology; and the three primary fields targeted by biotech firms (medicine, energy, and providing food), and the potential application of biotech products in those industries. This article will focus on the medicinal uses of biotechnology; evaluating the work of a few of the most prominent biotechnology firms, and the full potential of biotechnology within the confines of medicine and the treatment of diseases and other illnesses.


Take the San Francisco-based startup Stemcentrx, for example. The company recently gained widespread in attention by the media after Peter Thiel, a well-known and successful venture capitalist, invested a sizeable sum of money in the corporation due to their successful series of tests of a drug that aims to kill the stem cells that cause cancer. Thanks to the work of Stemcentrx founders Brian Slingerland and Scott Dylla, the company is currently tagged with a value of approximately $3 billion. Slingerland described the drugs as “laser guided missiles attached to atomic bombs” that will hopefully obliterate the types of stem cells that are the precursor to the buildup of cancer. Stemcentrx recently announced that their first batch of medications will be aimed at ten different types of cancer. According to the latest reports; Stemcentrx is testing five different drugs at the moment, three of which have been extremely effective in the lab tests. Their products are especially useful in the elimination of small cell cancers, which tend to be particularly deadly and difficult to cure. It is also interesting to note that Stemcentrx is a startup firm- it is not heavily associated with a larger pharmaceutical company. Rather, it was founded only seven years ago by a small staff; yet it has already made a name for itself as a pioneer and leader in their field. The potential of Stemcentrx and their products is great, and it just might provide a drug that slashes the number of people killed by cancer to a new low.


Another biotech startup generating a lot of chatter an interest around the Silicon Valley and beyond is called Theranos. The company was founded by Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford University dropout. Theranos’ marquee product is a new method of procuring and processing blood samples for medical diagnostic tests; which requires a very small amount of blood as compared to the preexisting routines, and with a much lower processing cost. Additionally, a single Theranos blood sample can be used in tests for over ten different medical conditions. Whereas most of the current procedures used to draw blood necessitate a rather large sample and a pricey fee to process the results, Holmes and Theranos are well on their way to revolutionizing the entire industry of diagnostic blood testing. Theranos has announced a partnership with the Cleveland Clinic; and it has opened several testing centers at a select number of Walgreen’s stores with the plan to expand to other locations across the country in the near future. Each test is expected to cost around $3; while most other methods- even some that are not as efficient and exhaustive as Theranos’ tests- can set a patient $50 or more.

Gene Therapy

Some medicinal biotechnology startups have endeavored to uncover a breakthrough in gene therapy. The concept {or at least the implementation} of gene therapy is really still in its infancy. There is not a shortage of scientists and physicians that know the potential of gene therapy and are working to make it more of a reality, but growth has been slow and steady for the most part. Fortunately, this is not necessarily a cause for concern; because the incredibly advanced and complex nature of the science is going to need some time to develop and mature. Gene therapy would potentially supply doctors with an alternative to traditional surgery and/or older types of medications; and a physician would accomplish this task by “simply” inserting the gene into a human cell, which would treat the disease in a given situation and prevent the invasion of illnesses. Startups such as Spark Therapeutics, BioMarin, and Avalanche Biotechnologies are some of the leaders and pioneers in the evolution of gene therapy.

Biotechnology, Medicine, and The Future of Healthcare

It is becoming more evident by each passing day that the new drugs and similar products introduced by the burgeoning biotechnology industry are going to be an essential element in the future of the world of healthcare. Not only are some startup firms creating treatments for the diseases that have distressed masses of people for centuries or longer, but they are even making great strides in eliminating the risk of coming down with such ailments in the first place. It will be interesting to watch and learn in the future, as the long-awaited products that will bring peace and relief to those in suffering are finally put on the market.