The demand for medical devices has grown rapidly, especially in the developed world, and will continue to expand as the population ages and with increasing expectations of healthcare. There will be more emphasis on tailoring treatments to particular patients, whilst keeping costs low. Miniaturisation is key to this, and to devices that reduce waste, accelerate diagnosis and minimise discomfort. Tissue engineering will attract increasing attention.
What Will Be the Value of the Biotechnology Market?
Estimates of the total cost of biotechnology products represent around $50 billion per annum, with nano aspects contributing perhaps around 1 per cent of this total. This contribution could double in the next three years. Investment in bio- and nanotechnologies that can underpin the next batch of applications is critical for UK manufacturing in this field.
Technical Challenges in Biotechnology Development Faced in the UK
The UK requires research across a spectrum of technically challenging fields, including work to improve capabilities of creating and working with nanofunctionalised materials and surfaces, and achieve novel surface patterning. Nanobiomimetics is seen as an important focus of development, where understanding and applying the structures and processes already evolved naturally at the nanolevel is a vector of creative effort and applications development. More generally, improved understanding of tissue structure and functioning is essential for progress, and proteomics is seen as a particularly important field for development.
Global Competition - Biotechnology Developments in the USA
The US has considerable strength in relevant high technology areas. However, restrictive regulations on stem cell research may drive some researchers to the UK. The US’s strength in microfabrication could make it the leading source of products. Another factor tending to foster US leadership in developing applications in this area is its large private health care system, which allows for expensive treatments. Biotechnology is also a major US strength and its coupling with nanotechnology puts the combination at a level where investment and skills are at a premium. Thus, in tissue engineering, nanotechnology is applied in concert with other technologies, such as microtechnology and molecular biology.
Funding of Biotechnology in the USA
US investment in high technology is strong and funding is reportedly more simply organised, through the NSF as opposed to the multitude of funding bodies in the UK. There are relatively numerous US companies in tissue engineering, and their applications seem to be closer to market.
An Overview of Biotechnology in the UK
The UK will be a large user and producer of these applications of nanotechnology. They draw on areas of traditional strength in the UK, especially in biology and biochemistry. The UK has a strong science base in molecular biology and expertise in drug discovery. The UK is internationally strong in pharmaceuticals and in medical devices, facilitated by collaborative research between industry and academia. Networks in the UK are good when well organised, but there are problems in developing interdisciplinary teams: the investment in Interdisciplinary Research Collaborations should produce world-leading science, but the US is already at the frontier.
Tissue Engineering in the UK - an Overview
The analytical side to nanotechnology aspects of tissue engineering is very important. The UK can make a big impact in terms of innovating new methods. The investment for tissue engineering in the UK is roughly proportionate with the total spend in nanotechnology, at around 15 per cent. The UK has been slow in exploitation of this research compared to countries such as Japan and the US. There is a fear that the decline in the numbers of science graduates may reduce this further.