Biotech in developing countries: challenges and opportunities

Choosing to grow their biotechnology sector can offer great opportunities for developing countries, helping them grow economically, providing new jobs, and supporting sustainable development, public health, and environmental protection.

Recently, significant growth has been achieved by developing countries in the field of biotechnology, especially in relation to food production, health and other dimensions of human well-being. This is thanks to the fact that biotechnology can actually provide opportunities for developing countries to adopt technologies that can be adapted to the needs of their own environment and society.

However, alongside these opportunities lie many challenges, all of which countries must overcome before a successful biotech sector can be implemented.

“For developing countries to have a thriving biotech industry, they need it
education (awareness), appropriate health and safety products, and regulatory oversight that checks and enforces the law. I call it the triangle of success. A country can have regulatory pressures and lots of money to spend, but without education and awareness, the biotech sector will not take off,” commented Ramin Najafi, chief executive officer (CEO) and founder of Emery Pharma, founder of NovaBay Pharmaceuticals, and founder of CP Lab Safety .

Government commitment to biotechnology in developing countries

Without structured public support, growing a successful biotech sector can be extremely difficult, with local talent and small biotech companies in developing countries looking elsewhere – to developed countries – for capital to advance their projects.

Therefore, governments should be interested in reducing investment costs for biotech startups and creating strong innovation policies that can enable the success of biotech ecosystems in their domestic markets.

Ways they can do this include financing cutting-edge R&D through partnerships with biotech startups, supporting the creation of dedicated biotech incubator laboratories, and facilitating clinical trials and regulatory modernization.

Cem Zorlular, CEO of Er-Kim Pharmaceuticals, provided Turkey as a good example of how developing countries can develop their biotech sector with government support and innovation, after the country placed high emphasis on the tiered growth of local biotech and pharmaceuticals. industry.

The government’s first step here is to replace imported generic drugs with locally manufactured products, before expanding to local biosimilars and owning a local biotech environment.

“…They have built a centralized innovation driver similar to other countries, which we call TÜBİTAK, which basically has not only research centers, but also has grants that they give to universities. These grants are determined more by the exact level of innovation we have to strive for, as opposed to base-level research,” explains Zorlular.

“So we’ve seen these grants turn into very specific outcomes a little bit quicker than if they were open grants, so we were able to start producing local biosimilars and have now progressed to building locally grown PD-1 (for example)…so governments can incubate excellent ecosystems in a world where these technologies are too advanced for developing countries.”

Follow the correct procedures

Shortcuts may seem tempting for developing countries when building their biotech sector, so they can advance more quickly, but there are many reasons why this is not a good idea, and why the correct procedures must be followed at all times, especially with laboratory safety in mind.

As recent investigation into China’s biotech sector by the Washington Post suggested, not following safety measures when conducting research with dangerous and highly contagious pathogens could carry the danger of starting another pandemic. The report points out that, despite China pouring billions of dollars into building laboratories and genetic engineering in a bid to become a ‘science superpower’, safety practices have failed to keep up.

The potentially dire consequences of not adhering to best practices are why any developing country looking to develop their biotech sector must be extremely careful and thorough.

“Regarding chemical or pharmaceutical research where many different hazardous chemicals may be used, a well-thought-out plan must be made for managing employees, and environmental safety, otherwise the activity may harm employees and the environment. With respect to biological research, a careful risk analysis should be carried out before engaging in any activity. Such risk analysis should cover biological potential, contaminating employees and the environment, and how to prevent it from happening in the first place,” said Najafi.

Although proper procedures must be followed, it can be challenging for developing countries to implement all necessary safety measures when carrying out trials.

“This is due to several constraints. Experience is an important factor for success, but other considerations include: limited resources, collaboration, communication, and knowledge transfer with international partners and research institutions, logistics, and limited or poor regulatory capacity to meet international standards. In addition, financial constraints, lack of trained personnel, cultural and ethical concerns, and limited access to the latest information can also be challenges,” said Jessie Wang Ph.D, senior director, cancer pharmaceuticals and cell support/general manager of Crown Bioscience, Taicang, China.

However, he added, with support from the international community in the form of funding, technology transfer and training programmes, countries could overcome these challenges and ensure safe and effective trials. Plus, collaboration with international organizations and regulatory bodies can help ensure trials are carried out according to international standards and ethical guidelines.

Furthermore, Wang pointed out that data reliability is also important, and following correct procedures and safety measures to standardize protocols ensures that the data collected is accurate, reliable and reproducible, so that it can be used as a reference in human trials.

If everything is done right, biotechnology in developing countries can bring enormous opportunities, ranging from economic growth, job creation, and overall better health systems.

Economic growth is critical for any developing country, and one way this can be achieved is by attracting study sponsors to countries with a credible and trustworthy biotech sector, along with low costs.

Sergey Jakimov, co-founder and managing partner of LongeVC, suggested Ukraine was a great example of having a healthcare and biotech sector that was able to attract study sponsors to the country and make good money, before the Russo-Ukrainian war.

“… The specialist workforce is there, the clinical infrastructure and facilities are there, but the costs are seven to eight times lower – the cost per patient is seven to eight times lower – and if you look at the statistics, the number of clinical trials that pharmaceuticals are doing big in pre-war Ukraine was staggering, and this was a big clinical trial, mind you; this is oncology, this is neurodegenerative, this is cardiovascular disease,” said Jakimov.

Now, he says the same strategy is being repeated in Latin America, in countries like Brazil and Argentina, with many clinical trials being conducted there.

This suggests that, if developing countries can overcome the challenges they face when trying to develop their biotech sector, they can certainly reap the benefits that biotechnology has to offer.

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