Redefining Healthcare: Cutting Edge Technologies and the Future of Big Pharma

October 9, 2023
Editor(s): Hirushi Muthukumarana
Writer(s): Yolanda Ye, Disha Mehta, Anh Tran

Source: Global Health and Pharma

Just a few days ago, Nobel Prize winners were announced as the world watched, with bright spotlights shining on one pair of scientists in particular. These scientists were the notable, Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, winners of the 2023 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. Through their breakthrough in the discovery of mRNA nucleotide’s potential use in Covid-19 vaccines, the pair and their teams pioneered and paved the way forward for pharmaceutical companies in the research and development process for the life saving vaccine. In doing so, they saved millions of lives; the importance of their work could not be overstated. 

As the buzz of the Nobel Prize winners ripples through the world, and discussion of Covid-19’s ever-present implications lingers, the future possibilities of the pharmaceutical industry has become a hot topic. In such a technology-oriented world, and with a future that looks to be even more technologically embedded, it is no wonder that pharmaceutical companies, like moths to a flame, have hopped onto the emerging trend. Developments in the pharma-technology sector span from the fusion of 3D printing, computer aided design and nanotechnology, incorporating these newfound technologies into the production and development process. Companies utilising such tech have praised it, highlighting its flexibility in use as a key attractor for drug and prosthetic development as well as its ability to optimise operations and enhance efficiency. Remarkable advancements of this nature herald a new and exciting future that reaps benefit for the health of countless individuals.

Transformation of the Industry: 3D Printing and Gene Editing 

Furthermore, considering that the pharmaceutical industry peaked at a whopping revenue of 1.48 trillion US dollars worldwide, recent innovations within the industry, especially in the inherent intersections with technology, have not gone unnoticed. Big Pharma companies have begun to open up to the use of transformative technology in their processes, reworking their operations, development and research processes. In fact, one of the most rapidly growing product sectors within the pharmaceutical drug industry are the newer technology implementations, with the rate of product output rising from 11 to 21 percent.  These innovations have the potential to broaden pharmaceutical portfolios, with Deloitte highlighting such sectors as crucial for early-adopters to expand and optimise their potential market outreach and growth.

Major players in the pharmaceutical industry have also gained significant investments into their venture capital streams, particularly within the biotechnology and digital health solutions spheres. This includes Ono Pharmaceutical, Chugai Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi. Moreover, there is a growing trend of collaboration with AI-oriented companies, exemplified by partnerships with industry leaders like NVIDIA and startup Evozyne. Evozyne, a biotechnology startup, raised over 81 million US dollars in their second investment round. The partnership utilises generative AI to create an algorithm that streamlines the sourcing, sorting and selection process when identifying a specific sequence of proteins, in order to expedite drug development. Therefore, huge investment offers and increasing involvement by big pharmaceutical companies attest to the industry’s recognition of the importance of evolving with technology in the scope of the pharmaceutical industries.

Source: zeal3dprinting

This depicts that due to several groundbreaking technologies emerging in the last decade, the medical industry is evolving faster than ever, paving the way for a better quality of life for all human beings. Designing patient-specific devices has long been the pursuit of the healthcare industry. The recent rise of computer-aided design and additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has allowed us to perform low cost prototyping with an unprecedented efficiency. Their intricate design and structure are near to impossible in traditional manufacturing technologies. This is due to the ability of digital models, as opposed to molds, to be fined-tuned with great flexibility and pace. Additionally, it may tackle one of the greatest challenges faced worldwide: organ shortage. By printing transplants with the patient’s own cells or other biomaterials and utilising the three distinct features of customisation, low production costs and quick turnarounds, 3D printing is the ideal technology for implant manufacturing. Moreover, its its market size in the medical industry is forecasted to grow from $2 billion sales in 2022 to $4 billion in 2016.  Currently, additive manufacturing has already been integrated into orthopaedics, where it produces surgical instruments as well as craniofacial implants, knee implants and spinal cages among many others. Printing can be performed on stainless steel, titanium, ceramics or high-performance plastics The same technology is also applied in orthotics, where customized silicone insoles are being printed to cater for the needs of different patients. 

On the other spectrum, another scientific breakthrough has taken place – human genome editing, which, as its name suggests, edits DNA sequences at one or more points in the strand. Through this, scientists can rewrite DNA by removing or mutating a single base, or by inserting a new gene altogether. Its ability to access and manipulate human genomes provides a promising future for the treatment of genetic diseases, such as the sickle cell disease. However, gene editing remains the center of complex debate until today. In 2018, WHO established a global, multidisciplinary Expert Advisory Committee to examine the scientific, social, legal and ethical implications of gene-editing, discussing advice and recommendations to ranges of governance around the globe. Therefore, it is imperative that regulatory bodies work closely with scientists to monitor its use, allowing the technology to benefit more human beings across the world without compromising integrity or crossing boundaries.

Lastly, nanotechnology and thus nanomedicine is also emerging as a central innovation. These are therapeutic or diagnostic agents with nano-scale dimensions, rendering them comparable to proteins and viruses in size. Hence, they are optimal agents to deliver small molecule drugs or other cargo, such as proteins, nucleic acids, or large biomolecules. In 2022, the market for nanomedicine is valued at $167.28 billion, and is predicted to reach $455.7 billion by 2031, at a 11.89% CAGR during the forecast period 2023 – 2031. Notably, the convergence of genetics and nanotechnology is a rapidly developing field with the potential to revolutionize medicine.

Investments, Clinical Trials and Big Pharma’s Future 

Revolutionary biotechnology such as the CRISPR/Cas9 system and mRNA hold great promise for the next generation of drugs. The discovery of CRISPR has unlocked significant potential in curative research leading to numerous clinical trials for diseases such as cancer, diabetes and genetic blindness all of which have yielded promising results. Similarly, mRNA technology, a molecule which trains the immune system to fight diseases by sending instructions to the immune cells to produce certain antibodies, has cultivated significant interest in the biotechnology industry after proving tremendous success with its effective and timely COVID-19 vaccine which was developed and approved in a record time of 11 months, this is unprecedented given effective vaccines on average, require 10-15 years before FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval. Moderna, a company which has become a household name and which employs the mRNA platform in its medicines, is currently investigating applications of mRNA for other diseases. This includes the elusive HIV/AIDS vaccine and recently, promising results have emerged for a personalised cancer vaccine administered in conjunction with Merck’s Keytruda drug, projected to reduce the risk of death and recurrence of melanoma by 44%. Results demonstrating the ability of mRNA to prime T-cells to recognize cancer points to a a promising breakthrough. Efforts are underway through significant investments in research and development to broaden this technology to address other forms of cancers. 

Source: UAB News: mRNA packed in a lipid casing. 

In terms of the market financial value of each respective technology, the CRISPR industry generated around $2.25 billion in 2022 and is projected to reach over $7.72 billion by 2030. The mRNA technology market, driven largely by COVID-19 vaccine development, has experienced a significant boost with the market projected to hit $68.1 billion by 2030

Source: Diamandis Pictured above is Cas protein and guide RNA excising DNA

Whether it be bioprinting, nanomedicine, CRISPR or mRNA, these technologies represent the vanguard of medical science ushering in a biomedical boom offering unprecedented opportunities to revolutionize healthcare, genetics, and disease prevention. As research and clinical trials continue, these technologies are poised to redefine the landscape of medicine. They promise a healthier, disease-free future for humanity, prophesying that once-incurable diseases might become a thing of the past.


The CAINZ Digest is published by CAINZ, a student society affiliated with the Faculty of Business at the University of Melbourne. Opinions published are not necessarily those of the publishers, printers or editors. CAINZ and the University of Melbourne do not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in the publication.