In research, stem cells make another breakthrough

Long before the most successful biotech companies advance a new therapy into the clinic, there was a scientist at work doing some painstaking research in the lab. To get a good look at biotechnology's future, you have to study the preclinical research going on around the world. And despite some serious funding limitations, the science of drug discovery has had another remarkable year.

Stem cells continued to create excitement in '07, holding out a growing hope for potential cures for some of the world's most terrible diseases. And while the federal government has been keeping embryonic stem cell research in the cold, a dramatic advance in turning skin cells into cells that act like ESCs may well offer a shortcut around the unending controversy in the field. In the meantime, look for stem cell programs around the world to continue to generate headlines in 2008. A shift in the political winds could also put a quick end to the cash shortages that have hampered research programs.

The genetics revolution, meanwhile, has been making waves of its own. A future of personalized medicine, when drug regimens will be tailored to an individual's genetic profile, is still some distance ahead. But it's coming. Scientists have been having a field day linking genetic mutations to disease, offering up big targets for drug discovery. And diagnostic tests have been multiplying as well. New FDA rules urging genetic tests for some therapies--such as warfarin--are just the first sign of what is to come. A new era of personalized medicine is approaching, and it has enormous consequences for everyone in the biotech industry.

Nanotechnology, meanwhile, continued to spur a host of upstart companies focused on new drug delivery methods. Bind Biosciences, Tempo Pharmaceuticals, Avidimir Therapeutics, and Intradigm all made news as well on the venture scene. Better delivery methods can redefine the rules of efficacy and safety for cancer therapies and other drugs. It's fascinating to watch nanotechnology's progress into the clinic.

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