The last decade has seen tremendous growth of biotech companies, jobs and solutions for many world-wide challenges. Yet the arena of biotech research and development is so vast, many are left clueless as to how biotechnology works and the tremendous impact it has on our lives.

Here's how biotech made easy could be defined in a nutshell: Biotechnology is all about manipulating living things to solve problems. The term was coined in 1919 by Hungarian engineer Karl Ereky to refer to lines of work that resulted in products made from raw materials with the help of living organisms. But the concept is not a new one, and man has used selective breeding and other examples of biotechnology throughout history.

The three main areas in which we see the effects of biotechnology are food, health and fuel. Perhaps the best known use of modern biotechnology is in medical research and the development of pharmaceuticals. On the agricultural side of biotech, researchers aim to improve crops and animal health with genetic engineering and other biotech applications. The third and more recent side of biotechnology provides solutions for burning less and cleaner energy and reducing our harmful impact on the environment.

Major Biotech Companies

Amgen is a California-based biotech company dedicated to fighting illness. Employing a staff of 17,000 worldwide, the company’s goal is to serve patients by providing therapies based on science and biotechnology that have the power to restore health and save lives. One of their newer products, XGEVA, is cited as significantly improving the quality of life for advanced breast cancer patients.

Another company working in the biotech field with life-changing results is Genzyme. Their clinical research program focuses on rare inherited disorders, kidney disease, diagnostic testing and more, including areas of unmet medical need. One particular therapy, alemtuzumab, is effective in treating patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) to reduce incidents of relapse and disability. With this product, Genzyme is working to set a new bar for MS treatment efficacy.

Growth and Profitability

The US has the most advanced biotech industry in the world, and at the closing of this last decade the industry has finally begun to see significant profits after years of struggle.

In 2004, the year-end biotech figures from Ernst and Young were bittersweet. The industry grew 17 percent worldwide, with revenues totaling $54.6 billion. But losses were at $5.3 billion, significantly higher than in 2003. The US represented 78 percent of those revenues and losses, a tough pill to swallow after spending $15.7 billion on research and development.

Thankfully, the industry continued to grow and in 2006, Reuter’s reported that the world’s biotech companies topped $70 billion in revenues for the first time. Three years later, in 2009, biotech funding grew 54 percent while overall venture investments dropped to a 15-year low.

Fast forward to the year 2010 and the biotech outlook is looking even brighter. According to the Burrill Report, life sciences companies raised record amounts last year. Venture financings more than doubled from $4 billion in 2009 to $9 billion in 2010.

Jobs and the Economy

Many experts believe that the biotech field is a key contributor to economic recovery. Gail Maderis, president and CEO of BayBio, notes this on her website. Maderis’ home state of California saw an employment growth rate of 19 percent in the biotech industry, illustrating the importance of biotech to local economy.

Biotech jobs are increasing nationwide. A search at medzilla, monster, hotjobs and other job sites brings up thousands of biotech positions across the country, including research and development, manufacturing, sales and marketing, and quality control and assurance.

The pay’s not bad, either. The median salary for a biotech scientist is $90k, and tops out at about $136k. Expected 10-year job growth is 13 percent from 2008-1018, according to money/payscale.com, and there are currently over 30,000 jobs for biotech scientists.

Biomedical engineers fall under the health division of biotech, and are an extremely hot job now with an expected growth rate of 72 percent and a ranking of 10 on the top 100 jobs list. Median pay for a biomedical engineer is $76k.

The Future of Biotech

Looking ahead to 2011, G. Steven Burrill, a renowned biotech specialist, author and venture capitalist, predicts that the American biotech industry will be “writing a new playbook” in response to factors in the environment.

Burrill believes that risk-mitigated companies rather than earlier stage development companies will be favored. He mentions the effects of emerging markets in other countries that are growing faster than the US and Europe, particularly Brazil, Chile, China, India, Malaysia and Russia.

Burrill also factors in challenges created by healthcare reform as well as opportunities created by companies that are operating in biotech greenspace.

Veteran biotech financier Stelio Papadopoulos predicts that by 2014, the top five bestselling drugs will all be biotech products. But, he told Forbes that he’s not sure who’s going to finance the next round of industry research because the stock market seems to have lost its appetite for funding high-risk ventures – even ones creating potentially life-saving drugs.

Even with cautious investors, market fluctuations and economic challenges, the biotech industry is growing at a strong and steady pace. The power of this industry lies in its broad scope and its ability to use natural resources to change the world. Nobody can predict the future, but using past and present indicators, biotechnology may just be the answer to slowing the recession and reviving the economy.


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