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Biotech Industry

Biotechnology, as described by dictionary references such as Merriam-Webster, focuses on the manipulation of living organisms to create commercial products — but that is a broad way of regarding this fast-growing science. By such definitions, centuries of agriculture and animal breeding would qualify as types of biotechnology. Modern understanding and usage of this science, also known as biotech, has been refined to create novel drugs and pest-resistant crops.


The biotech industry is largely divided into the medical and agricultural markets. Although enterprising biotechnology is also applied to other areas, such as the industrial production of chemicals and bioremediation, the use in these areas is still specialized and limited.


On the other hand, the medical and agricultural industries have undergone biotech revolutions. This has included new — and at times controversial — research efforts, development programs, and business strategies to discover, alter, or produce novel biomolecules and organisms through bioengineering.


Medical biotech has been instrumental in the initial drug discovery and screening stages. Most major pharmaceutical companies have active target-discovery research programs heavily reliant on biotechnology. Smaller upstart companies such as Exelixis, BioMarin Pharmaceuticals, and Cephalon (acquired by Teva Pharmaceutical) focused on drug discovery and development by often using unique proprietary techniques. In addition to direct drug development, companies such as Abbott Diagnostics and Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD) look for ways to use new disease-related genes to create new clinical diagnostics.


The same agricultural biotechnology used for drug development can also improve agricultural and food products. However, unlike with pharmaceuticals, genetic engineering did not generate a rash of new ag-biotech startups. The difference may be that, despite the technological leap forward, biotech did not fundamentally change the nature of the agricultural industry. Manipulating crops and livestock to optimize genetics to enhance utility and improve yields has been going on for thousands of years. In a way, bioengineering just provides a convenient new method.

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