Biotech in the Bay often plays second fiddle to the hot tech startups coming out of Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Oakland. But recent news in East Bay biotech could mean big changes to software and mobile development’s nerdier cousin.
A new study published this week in the publication Nature Materials, describes how UC Berkeley scientists are using electrical currents to direct cells into new shapes and move them in different directions using a process called “galvanotaxis.” A report by Eureka! Science News says the successful experiments could be useful in creating new tissues.
“Just as a few sheepdogs exert enormous control over the herding behavior of sheep,” Daniel Cohen, lead author of the study, said, “we might be able to similarly herd biological cells for tissue engineering.”
In practical terms, researchers say that the experiments are the first step in creating “smart bandages” that would use electrical currents to help heal wounds.
Yet despite the sunny outlook from the atop of the Berkeley hills, down by the waterfront pharmaceutical company Bayer AG said it would look away from its Berkeley plant and invest “nearly $700 million to boost manufacturing capacity and add about 500 jobs at two German plants.”
The increased capacity for plants abroad will go to make two new hemophilia drugs now in Phase III clinical trials, and company executives called the investment one of the largest in the history of Bayer. The Berkeley Bayer plant has been a manufacturer of the drug Kogenate, a blood-clotting hemophilia A drug.
Nevertheless, the bump in the road for Berkeley’s Bayer plant is an outlier in Bay Area biotech. Mostly, it is booming.
Last year, 35 IPO’s came to market including seven from the Bay Area. According to a report by Peter Delevett of the San Jose Mercury News, the first two months of 2014 have seen a record 17 IPO’s—no doubt spurred by the momentum of a 24 percent spike in biotech mergers and acquisitions in the last quarter of 2013 to the tune of $37 billion.
Driving the growth, Delevett says, are companies who survived a dry spell of investing through the recession who are ready for new investments, several blockbuster drugs headed for “patent cliffs,” and Obamacare policies that require cuts to the cost of health care.
Another factor driving investment is progress being made by smaller biotech companies researching treatments for Alzheimer and Parkinson’s diseases.
One of the companies vying for biotech investment dollars is Emeryville based Adamas Pharmaceuticals Inc. Nasdaq reported Adamas, which develops nervous system drugs targeted at Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease, hopes to raise $62 million dollars by going public.
Still, getting involved in the growing biotech scene doesn’t require a multi-million dollar IPO.
“By sharing a piece of equipment here, offering advice there they aim to build a space where biotech do-it-yourselfers can inch their projects closer to having an impact on people’s health, food, the environment or space,” Leuty wrote, “Unlike some other hacker spaces, it has a strong emphasis on helping biohackers move beyond garage-style tinkering to spinning their ideas into actual startups.”
Individuals interested in getting their own biotech project off the ground can rent space for as little as $100 a month, and startups can find a new home for $500 a month and a little equity given over to Berkeley BioLabs.