COVID-19 Vaccine Makers Top List of 2021’s Most Innovative Biotechs
In a list of the most innovative companies in 2021, Fast Company has outlined 10 biotech companies that continue to revolutionize the drug-discovery landscape. Taking center stage of this list are drug companies that have worked to develop highly effective COVID-19 vaccines at a record pace, while the other companies falling close behind have made strides in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and novel computer hardware for drug discovery and single-cell genomics.
U.S.-based Pfizer and its German manufacturing partner BioNTech top the list, primarily for the fact that these two companies were able to deliver a highly effective and authorized COVID-19 vaccine just under a year after the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus was first identified. According to late-stage trials, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine demonstrated an approximate 95% efficacy for preventing COVID-19 compared with placebo. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was the first mRNA vaccine approved for any illness.
Moderna is another company that received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for its COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., which was shown to be more than 94% effective for protecting against COVID-19 in clinical trials. Similar to Pfizer’s two-shot vaccine, Moderna’s product is also an mRNA vaccine that requires two doses to reach its 94% efficacy rate. In contrast to Pfizer’s vaccine, which requires storage in a freezer at -94ºF, the Moderna vaccine can be kept in a regular freezer, which provides a little more flexibility and ease in its transportation.
Startup company Biobot Analytics swiftly follows Pfizer and Moderna, as this company was quickly able to use its genomic and chemical assays as well as data analytics to detect COVID-19 in sewage. While the company started out detecting opioids in municipal waste, Biobot quickly transitioned to tracking COVID-19 shedding among people who weren’t necessarily displaying classic symptoms of the disease. Over 400 cities and universities have relied on this service from Biobot, and the company said it has tested over 10% of the U.S. population to date.
Oxford University and its partner AstraZeneca also quickly developed a vaccine against COVID-19, but unlike Moderna and Pfizer, the U.K. university and drug maker used DNA from a modified chimpanzee cold virus in their COVID-19 vaccine to elicit production of coronavirus antigens. Also, the vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca doesn’t require freezing and can be stored in a refrigerator for up to six months. The vaccine was authorized in the U.K. in December.
In 2020, California-based Zymergen launched custom microbial strains that optimize animal feed and reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 80,000 tons per year. Additionally, the company is currently working on microbes that can break down plastic. In September, the company raised up to $300 million in Series D financing to fund its projects.
Twist Bioscience adapted a method for writing DNA on a silicon chip to develop a synthetic “control” of the novel coronavirus. Since development, several labs have used this control version of SARS-CoV-2 to produce and validate tests and antibodies for COVID-19, all without exposing workers and investigators to the virus. Additionally, the company has released a Respiratory Virus Panel that detects COVID-19, in addition to other viruses.
Also included in the list of the most innovative biotech companies in 2021, GSK obtained nine new approvals for drugs and vaccines in 2020 alone, with 12 new approvals in total in the past two years. The company had also partnered in people working in CRISPR and is developing new early-discovery programs with 23andMe for cancer as well as neurological, cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases.
In line with GSK’s commitment to CRISPR, Sherlock Biosciences, a CRISPR-based diagnostics company, recently developed the first CRISPR-based SARS-CoV-2 test kit authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Atomwise relies on AI to assist in structure-based small-molecule drug discovery for its partners Eli Lilly and Bridge Biotherapeutics. In mid-2020, Atomwise expanded a strategic partnership with Chinese biopharm company Hansoh Pharma to develop new oncology therapies. The company also has advanced a project with Bayer to produce novel products that protect crops.
Hardware and software company 10X Genomics develops products for single-cell analytics to help researchers detect changes in tissues or tumors at the cellular level. The company had around 250 patents issued in 2020 and approximately 500 waiting in the queue.