Over the past few decades use of medical biotechnology has led to important advances in diagnostics and therapy. As a result, many diseases can now be detected earlier and treated more specifically than ever before.
Biotechnological methods permit
- determination of the molecular causes of disease,
- development of new diagnostic techniques,
- and development of innovative medicines (biopharmaceuticals / therapeutic proteins) directed at specific molecular targets.
A new class of drugs: therapeutic antibodies
Antibodies are immunoglobulin (Ig) proteins and are components of the immune system. They recognise foreign structures (antigens) and mark these for attack by the immune system. Antigens include molecular structures present on the surface of bacteria, viruses or body cells.
In 1972 César Milstein and Georges Köhler – who were later to win the Nobel Prize – found a way of producing unlimited amounts of identical antibody molecules. Within a few years such “monoclonal antibodies” had revolutionised biological research. Not until the late 1990s, however, was the specificity of monoclonal antibodies successfully exploited for therapeutic purposes.
Therapeutic antibodies bind specifically to certain molecules and thereby prevent them from causing illness. They also direct the patient’s immune system specifically onto disease-causing antigenic structures to bring about their destruction.
Therapeutic proteins – signalling substances, enzymes and monoclonal antibodies – form by far the most important group of biotechnological agents in current use. Some also occur naturally in the body (e.g. the hormones insulin and erythropoietin). These molecules are made in cells that have been genetically modified to produce the human protein.
It is now also possible to bind therapeutic proteins specifically to nonprotein components so as to improve their efficacy and duration of action.
For patients, advances in medical biotechnology mean more specific treatment of their disease.
Roche provides biopharmaceuticals for use in the following indications:
Most of Roche’s diagnostic tests are based on biotechnology. Enzymes produced biotechnologically are used in numerous tests for blood and urine components such as cholesterol and glucose. Roche produces hundreds of enzymes and antibodies for industrial, scientific and medical diagnostic applications.