Biobanks are not only revolutionizing medical research and drug development but are also currently the best avenue to explore economic opportunities. Why are Biobanks mushrooming and what are their benefits? Is it a good investment?
What are these Biobanks?
Biobanks are repositories that store biological specimen (usually human) like blood, plasma, DNA, tissues and organs. More recently, umbilical cord banks, egg banks and sperm banks have become very popular.
They were started for scientists to gain access to biological information for disease research purposes (mainly genetic). But now they are used not only for research but also for drug research, development of personalised medicine and stem cell therapy. The best example to demonstrate the benefit of Biobanks in research is the case of Henrietta Lacks, who succumbed to an aggressive form of cervical cancer but her cells (HeLa) are used till date for research and development of vaccines for polio, cancer and AIDS. There are egg banks and sperm banks that store the respective biological specimens for the purpose of in-vitro fertilization and research.
The Biobanking market is growing at a CAGR of 7% over the period 2014 -2020.It is estimated to be worth $250 million by 2020.
The high incidences of diseases like cancer and the rise in other chronic diseases globally which warrants a need for enterprises like Biobanks that contribute to the on-going medical research. Biobanks provide key information on genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and epidemiology for discovery of novel drug targets and advances in medical research like personalised medicine.
The cord banks have become popular as more number of parents who now want to invest in these, to preserve the umbilical cords of their babies in case of stem cell therapies needed in the future. Egg and sperm banks have gained popularity with women and men who are facing fertility-threatening treatments or those who just want to preserve their egg or sperms for use when they are better situated to start a family.
Biobanking sector not only requires advanced equipment for cryo preservation of biological specimens but also requires infrastructure for storage and services such as effective data management, sample collection and processing. There is also need for networking and information flow between different biobanks, healthcare setups and research organization to ensure the information available is used for the larger good. The growing biobanking market provides an opportunity for the growth of the submarkets associated with it
The Dark Side
There are numerous ethical and legal issues associated with biobanking. Only recently, an informed consent of the patients is being taken during specimen collection. There is always a risk of misuse of the material collected for medical research without the consent of the donor. There is no legal or regulatory framework protecting the anonymity of the donor.
With every new account created in a blood bank, the amount of data collected and stored increases. The banks have to develop better data management and storage facilities to prevent and loss of data, tampering or mix up of it.
A Final Note
A deposit made in a Biobank will earn you an interest at a later date in the form of knowledge and therapies. Countries such as Britain, Sweden, Canada and Norway are setting up national Biobanks. About 60% of the population in Iceland have their biological material deposited in it. The U.S. under Obama administration is creating an Office of Biorepository and Biospecimen research (OBBR). Biobanks are being funded by the public/ private partnership. There are number of venture capitalists and pharmaceutical companies investing in them. There many companies such as Cell&Co Biorepository, deCODE genetics, Preservation Solutions, Sigma Aldrich and Teva Pharmaceutical industries who are key players in the biobank market. There are also many public-private partnership undertakings in this domain and number of collaborations to establish better facilities. Top biotech companies in the world like Amgen, Celegene, PerkinElmer are funding research of extraction, preservation and storage of biological specimen in biobanks.