Life-science industry predictions this year: from medical cannabis to the microbiome

Last year, we predicted that 3D printing, biosimilars and e-health would have a major impact on healthcare – and we were right! Now that 2019 is underway it’s time for us to make our annual predictions for the top 5 trends for the year ahead.

  1. Medical cannabis

    Since it was made legal for medical use in the UK in November, medical cannabis can now be prescribed for certain conditions, such as rare forms of epilepsy and as an alternative treatment to alleviate some symptoms of chemotherapy and multiple sclerosis.

    Whilst it is still early days in the UK, the international medical cannabis market is becoming increasingly lucrative. GW Pharmaceuticals became the first company to gain FDA approval for a cannabis plant-derived medicine in June last year. Similarly, Insys now also has a product on the market, SYNDROS®, a liquid medication used to treat appetite loss in AIDS patients, with three more clinical trials ongoing.

    Acerus Pharma successfully concluded the first round of clinical trials of a cannabis oil nasal spray last month, which could pave the way for a more convenient and effective administration method compared to capsules or tablets. Zynerba also has a gel product in the later stages of clinical trials which could potentially treat rare types of autism and epilepsy in children, with the results due at the end of this year.

    Even big pharma is getting involved: Novartis subsidiary Sandoz announced a global supply deal with Canadian medical cannabis producer Tilray in December. And with the market projected to reach $37bn by 2023, this year could prove to be very exciting for the industry.

  2. Immunotherapy

    It’s a buzzword in the field of cancer research, but what exactly is it? Put simply, it uses the body’s immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells. There are several types: monoclonal antibodies (MABs), which attach to different proteins on tumours; Checkpoint Inhibitors, which block proteins that stop the immune system attacking cancer cells; immune-boosting proteins called cytokines; vaccines against cancer-causing viruses such as HPV; and Adoptive Cell transfer such as CAR-T, which we covered in more detail in a previous blog post.

    Whilst this type of treatment is yielding promising results, it is often used as a last resort when more conventional treatments have failed. However, with positive recent clinical trial data involving advanced melanoma patients showing doubled survival rates, as well as trials with head and neck cancer sufferers showing similar rates and much less severe side effects, it is starting to gain traction. Novartis’s immunotherapy drug Kymriah, for instance, is already being used to treat certain types of leukaemia and lymphoma, with a reported remission rate of 82% within three months for paedetriac leukaemia patients, and promising early remission rates for adults with lymphoma. In November last year, NICE also approved skin cancer immunotherapy treatment Opdivo for use on the NHS in England.

    This month, GE Healthcare and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the USA announced a five-year partnership to improve the safety and effectiveness of immunotherapy treatments. With such pioneering research underway, this could be a game changer in the fight against cancer.

  3. Bioelectronics and implantable medical devices

    It sounds like science fiction, but bioelectronics (the use of electronic devices in the body) is a sector showing huge potential in diagnosing and managing diseases.

    Since the invention of the pacemaker in the 1960s, the bioelectronics field has kept pace with advances in technology: a spinal implant developed by Swiss researchers has enabled three paralysed men to walk more than half a mile at a time, and scientists at Northwestern University in Illinois have engineered a device which accelerates nerve regeneration in rats.

    With ground-breaking research comes exciting new products: the Freestyle range of wearable glucose monitors for type I diabetics are now widely available globally, with NHS England pledging to increase availability of the Freestyle Libre from April this year. In the USA, a first of its kind bioelectronic treatment for hayfever-related sinus pain has been given FDA clearance this month. GSK and Google’s joint venture, Galvani Bioelectronics, was set up in November 2016 with a focus on chronic disease treatment and an aim to have products on the market by 2026. Meanwhile, SetPoint Medical has reported positive findings from its clinical studies of the effectiveness of bioelectronic medicine for Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

    Could tiny, implantable devices be the solution for a range of conditions? Watch this space…

  4. Managing chronic diseases with AI

    Technology and healthcare have always gone hand in hand, but can it change the way health professionals and patients manage chronic conditions like COPD, mental health disorders and diabetes?

    With the advent of smartphones and tablets, there is now an app for pretty much anything. With this technology, healthcare can become more accessible and more tailored to the individual. Babylon has developed an app which enables the user to access personalised health assessments and treatment advice, plus Skype-style appointments with a doctor. It is available worldwide and free to use, with the option of paid consultations if required. German digital therapeutics company Kaia Health took part in a clinical study which revealed that use of their rehabilitation app for COPD improved users’ perceived quality of life and their self-management of the disease. A “virtual therapist” app by Ieso Digital Health has also seen better clinical recovery rates in patients with a variety of mental health conditions compared to national rates.

    Taking personalised diagnosis and treatment a step further, chronic disease specialist Lark Health is collaborating with genetic profiling company 23andMe by integrating users’ genetic information into wellness and diabetes prevention programmes. This enables 23andMe customers to access Lark’s personalised, genetically tailored weight loss and wellness coaching, even potentially helping prevent type 2 diabetes for those at risk.

    With chronic disease a global problem, AI could be the solution to help improve millions of lives.

  5. The microbiome

We have talked about the microbiome before and research into this fascinating area shows no signs of slowing in 2019.

The human body plays host to a huge range of microbes – mainly bacteria, but also fungi, viruses and others. Collectively this is known as our microbiota or microbiome, and scientists have barely begun to scratch the surface in terms of how it behaves.

Although it is early days, research suggests that the microbiome is linked to a whole range of diseases and conditions, affecting everything from diabetes to autism and anxiety to obesity. In fact, a $2.5m, four-year US study is currently ongoing to investigate the role of the gut microbiome in Parkinson’s disease, and whether altering it can affect disease progression. Biotech firm Genentech and microbiome company Microbiotica also signed a deal in June to develop a commercial treatment for inflammatory bowel disease.

Meanwhile, the five-year MyNewGut project concluded at the end of November and researchers were able to provide evidence that the gut microbiome affects metabolic health, a high fibre diet contributed to better mental health and healthier weight, whilst a high fat diet may impact the brain and gut microbiome negatively.

There are even microbiome screening tests available now, with companies like uBiome, Atlas and Thryve offering services from disease identification to personalised probiotics, all from a stool sample analysis.

The next twelve months should give further insight on just how important these tiny microbes are to our health.

Let SRG Drive Your Future Science Career in 2019

With so many advances within the science community, there is unlimited scope for talented candidates to find new roles with innovative companies. 2019 will be exciting year for science recruitment!

If you are a candidate who wants to help change the world we live in this year, and long into the future, get in touch with one of our expert recruiters in Clinical, Engineering, or Science to discuss potential opportunities. We’re here to help you with every part of the process, from CV advice to interview techniques. 

If you are a science company looking for talented staff to drive your business both now and in the future, our team can help you source the very best talent. Get in touch now — grow and future proof your business with SRG. 

What else will 2019 bring? Keep your eye on our blog for the latest emerging trends in the world of science, clinical and engineering.

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