Researchers are beginning to see the potential for breakthrough in healthcare through glycomics, which studies carbohydrates, proteins and their interactions. In fact, these carbohydrates are moving beyond their regular roles as sugar storage bins. Carbohydrate-binding proteins are becoming extremely useful in curing various illnesses.
"The rapid evolution of glycomics as a natural extension of proteomics provides a better understanding of glycoproteins, glycosylation process, and its role in the protein function," explains Frost & Sullivan industry analyst Giridhar Rao. "This in turn facilitates the development of novel biodrugs."
The rapid progress of glycomics in the biopharmaceutical industry is evident from the existence of approximately half a dozen drugs, in which manipulation of carbohydrates and proteins provides advanced drug properties. For example, Epogen - a glycotherapeutic drug - contains two additional carbohydrate groups that can extend circulatory half-life and magnify efficiencies.
Active research on glycosyltransferases to understand the role of carbohydrate interactions in a cancerous cell is also likely to provide further opportunities for application of glycomics. One such prospect lies in the development of protein serum-based cancer diagnostics.
In fact, glycoprotein therapeutics is the fastest-growing segment in the biopharmaceuticals industry with an annual growth rate of 24 percent, which is expected to accelerate further. However, maintaining adequate manufacturing capacity is a critical challenge.
"With around 100 protein-based drugs that are in late-stages of human clinical trials, few are likely to hit the market in the coming years," says Rao. "Hence, raising the demand for production capacity at least by four times more than the existing capacity. This may be essential to maintain the demand-supply equilibrium."
This creates an urgent need for alternate manufacturing media such as transgenic plants and animals, besides the mammalian and microbial and fungal cell culture systems.
Fungal cell lines provide considerable time and cost benefits over mammalian cell lines. For instance, the latter proves to be a lengthy process and may alter the properties of the final therapeutic glycoprotein.
Conversely, fungal cell lines such as engineered yeast expression systems for production of humanly glycosylated protein provide for faster fermentation and a higher product yield.
Industrial bioprocessing also holds immense potential for biotechnology. The development of a sophisticated microbioreactor for bacterial cell culture could speed up the bioprocessing mechanism.
A 5- to 50-microliter microbioreactor provides significant advantages over traditional chemical processes, such as lower temperature, pressure and almost neutral pH requirements. Also, mass production with lesser power consumption is viable since the raw materials are renewable living cells.
Nano-biotechnology proves to be another potential growth area, where the endless possibilities of "doing big with small" exist. This has sparked an explosion of research and has influenced the commercialization of many nano drug delivery technologies.
For instance, the uniquely small-sized carbon buckyballs and nanotubes are proving to be successful nano-carriers that are small enough to navigate within the body. Thereby, they could serve as effective carriers of active ingredients for cancer treatment. However, dealing with the toxicity of trace nanoparticles that could be left behind in the body, is a major concern.
Another promising technique is nano-sized dendrimers that escape the blood stream through vascular pores and selectively target and treat tumour cells. Dendrimer-based drugs coupled with additional agents provide high-end tumour images and hence could revolutionize cancer treatment.
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