While biotechnology practitioners may not have been able to inspire Wall Street to record fund-raising heights in 1997, theyaroused considerable fascination across the rest of the land and set the stage for anexciting 1998.
Last year may be remembered for theintroduction of biotechnology to Main Street in the form a cloned sheep, named Dolly, whoowed her existence to the genetic manipulation by Scottish researchers of an adult ewe'smammary cell.
Although the science was far from exact, theachievement and the human cloning possibilities it represented shocked many unfamiliarwith the dramatic accomplishments in biotechnology and genetics.
As a result, efforts to understand theimplications of genetic research jumped to the top of agendas in Congress and governingbodies around the world.
In the U.S., Dolly diverted attention fromadoption of significant legislative changes in the FDA to bring drugs to patients faster,and bioethics debates drowned out discussions on selection of a new commissioner to headthat important regulatory agency.
Even the scientific community labeled Dolly a“breakthrough,“ but she wasn't the only noteworthy advancement of 1997.
Among the highlights chronicled in the BioWorldBiotechnology State of the Industry Report 1998 are 16 pages of milestones reached inthe war against disease. Among them are the discovery of another tumor suppressor protein,called p73, which has similarities and differences to the well known p53 tumor suppressorand which may advance the battle against cancer; the potential use of a bcl2 gene,which is active in embryonic nerve cell development, to regenerate damaged nerves inparalyzed adults; and the completion of genomic sequences for 14 more microorganisms,whose molecular structure sheds light on human genetic mechanisms.
But translating science into treatments fordisease takes money, lots of it, and while biotechnology companies in 1997 did not enjoythe same level of investor enthusiasm they did in 1996, they still managed to attract morethan $5 billion from equity offerings apart from ongoing collaborations withpharmaceutical companies.
Succeeding pages of this reportcomprehensively track the cash raised by public and private biotechnology companies.Overall the financial data suggest 1997 could be rated an average year for an industrythat's in its early 20s.
Other indicators, however, such as increasesin products on the market, under review by the FDA and in late-stage clinical trials,point to a rapidly maturing industry. The big five – Amgen Inc., Genentech Inc.,Chiron Corp., Biogen Inc. and Genzyme Inc. – are no longer the onlycompanies posting earnings instead of losses.
Biotechnology executives and scientists alsodon't have to convince big drug makers of their value. In the last several years, bigpharma has sprinted to biotech labs for drug discovery help. The number of alliancesskyrocketed more than 220 percent from 1993 to 1997 and funding from those collaborationssoared from $1.4 billion to $4.4 billion.
Over the past five years, big pharma haspledged $13 billion in more than 750 collaborations; and those figures don't include dealswhere financial terms were not disclosed. And the U.S. biotechnology industry isn't theonly success story.
The number of new collaborations between bigpharma and biotech companies outside the U.S. surged from 18 in 1996 to 39 in 1997. Thenumber of non-U.S. biotech start-ups attracting venture capital also doubled over the lasttwo years.
Dolly may have brought the biotechnologyrevolution into focus for those on Main Street, but readers of the BioWorld State ofthe Industry Report, BioWorld Financial Watch, BioWorld International, BioWorldWeek and BioWorld Today, have followed the myriad historic and controversialachievements step-by-step.
The BioWorld State of the Industry Report 1998is another in the series of in-depth examinations of biotechnology's progress. This year'sstudy is more than 300 pages – itself a record. It's nearly 30 percent larger thanthe 1997 edition and 60 percent larger than the 1996 version.