In the world of biotechnology, most modern drugs are manufactured using living cells, says Susan Young at the Technology Review Editors blog. As Amgen President Robert Bradway said at a presentation to business leaders at MIT this week, "biotech is about accepting that the unit of production is the living cell."
And that acceptance comes with a whole bunch of challenges, Young says. Researchers at companies like Amgen use bacteria or cultured mammalian cells to make their drugs, and are working hard to determine the precise inner workings of those cells in order to make them produce more of the product with fewer contaminants. "Bradway pointed to recent drug shortages as an illustration of the challenge of production inside cells," Young says. "Some 20 percent of the time, therapeutic production lines fail due to substandard product quality."