We love technology in general: computing technology, telecommunications, nanotechnology and all developments aimed to augment the human productivity and quality of life. However, the founding members of PSI have a combined experience of almost 35 years in the biopharmaceutical industry and thus, we reserve a special place to it in our hearts.
Most medicines in the market are based on simple chemical compounds found in nature, or made in a laboratory out of simple compounds. They are generally known as small molecules. The exception to these are antibiotics, which are produced by a living organism (like penicillin and erythromycin) or synthetized from substances produced by a living organism (clarithromycin is made by performing some changes to the erythromycin molecule). While somewhat bigger, antibiotics are still considered to be in the group of small molecules.
Biotechnology is generally about producing extremely big and complex protein moleules which are only produced by living organisms. This size and complexity makes this molecule very delicate and difficult to process. Sometimes a biotechnology product which is succesfully made in a laboratory, is very challenging to produce in large scale.
In the past, the insulin aministered to diabetics was produced by animals. Given its source, the human body did not react to it very well. Thanks to biotechnology it has been possible to have bacteria generate human insulin out of human DNA. This human insulin is perfectly compatible with humans and thus, generally well accepted and effective.
Bacteria has two types of DNA. The regular one is in the nucleous. However the one that give it superpowers is outside the nucleous and is called Plasmid DNA. This DNA is very simple, in the shape of a ring, and can be transferred from one bacteria to other bacterias (even different type) by simple contact. This DNA stores the genetic code that gives the bacteria its adaptive abilities like antibiotic-resistance.
What the scientifics do is that they split this ring and insert in the middle a chunk of human DNA. Then they insert the ring back in the bacteria, and place the bacteria in liquid full of food for the bacteria to reproduce into a colony. Each of these bacteria will produce, among other things, the protein that the inserted human DNA was programmed to produce. However, the desired protein is still inside the celular wall of the bacteria.The tricky part is opening the bacteria to extract its content, and then separating the desired protein from all the other substances inside the bacteria, without damaging it.
Notice that all this process must be performed in a perfectly sterile environment, as it is not possible to use heat or chemicals to kill viruses or other germs without damaging the desired protein. So, after the bacteria is opened, the desired protein is separated using different filter types (some of them are similar to the filters used to process beer). The rest of the process is to formulate the drug to correct concentration and package it. The final product is stored at very low temperatures to protect it from damage.
Well, the process explained above is the core of the concept. However, this fall shorts of understanding the whole process for creating a new biotechnology drug. R&D departments in biotechnology companies dedicate millions of dollars to investigate and explore potential candidates for new drugs. This process is lead by biotechnology scientifics but is also supported by Information Technology analysts dedicated to bioinformatics. These bioinformatics professionals apply Data Mining techniques to the DNA sequences being analyzed to try to find patterns on the genoma associated to specific human conditions.
There is also huge crews of scientifics and supporting personnel dedicated to support phase one, two and three clinical trials. And, there are also other teams with scientifics and engineers dedicated to transform the laboratory process into a industial level factory that will produce exactly the same product developed in the laboratory.