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The difference between pharmaceutical and biotechnology

While sitting in a meeting recently I was asked, 'what exactly is the difference between pharma and biopharma?'

For most of us, we may not necessarily know the difference between both, so here is a basic description of the differences between the two industries which have made Ireland their home in the last number of years:

PharmaceuticalWorking with plant and chemical based compounds, pharmaceutical companies work their magic to make medicines that cure or manage diseases, and protect us from infection. Pharmaceuticals include a handful of major companies that dominate the industry. While many of these firms also produce animal health products, livestock feed supplements, vitamins and a host of other goods, this profile will focus solely on their drug products used to treat human illness.

Depending on their size and strategy, pharmaceutical companies may conduct extensive research in-house or they may seek to license promising drugs from academia, other pharmaceuticals, or biotechnology companies. The latter firms are generally smaller than their Big Pharma competitors, and they employ cellular and bimolecular processes to make medicines or diagnose illness.

BiotechnologyBiotechnology is the applied knowledge of biology, it seeks to duplicate or change the function of a living cell so it will work in a more predictable and controllable way. The biotechnology industry uses advances in genetics research to develop products for human diseases and conditions. Several biotech companies also use genetic technology to other ends, like the manipulation of crops. Biopharmaceuticals hold great promise for treating some of the most intractable medical conditions such as cancer and autoimmune disease. Biopharmaceuticals are therapeutic agents intended to treat symptoms and/or underlying causes of a variety of disorders and diseases.

The primary difference between biopharmaceuticals and traditional pharmaceuticals is the method by which the drugs are produced: The former are manufactured in living organisms such as bacteria, yeast and mammalian cells, whereas the latter are manufactured through a series of chemical synthesis.

Biopharmaceuticals are primarily developed in both academic and industrial laboratories. The commercialisation process is often funded by venture capital firms (for academic and start-ups) or drug companies. Prior to sale, drugs are assessed by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and other international regulatory agencies for safety and efficacy.

Biotech opportunities largely mirror those in the pharmaceutical industry. The key difference is that biotech firms are much more focused on research because they are still developing their initial products. Biotech firms tend to expand their marketing and sales forces when, and if a viable product nears FDA approval. Biotech companies tend to be located in geographical clusters, often near prominent research universities. The largest concentration of biotech companies in Ireland are in Cork and Dublin as these areas have made an effort to focus on drawing biotech companies by devoting to finding resources for them.

Those who choose to work in this industry enjoy the very real satisfaction of knowing that they are working to produce drugs that could make a radical difference in the lives of thousands, even millions, of people.

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