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What is Biotech R&D?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 20, 2024
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Biotech R&D is a branch of the biotechnology field which focuses on research and development with the goal of creating new biotechnology and finding uses for it. Numerous companies in the life sciences invest in biotech R&D, ranging from pharmaceutical companies looking for the next hit drug to agriculture companies developing new crops. Several governments also invest in biotechnology with the goal of improving quality of life for their citizens.

Biotechnology, also known as biotech, is a very large field which uses natural organisms to make products, manage industrial processes, and so forth. This field also includes the modification of natural organisms to make them more suitable for intended use. Humans have been engaging in biotechnology to some degree for a very long time; for example, alcoholic drinks are an example of biotechnology, with humans using microorganisms to ferment plants for the purpose of creating an alcoholic end product.

In biotech R&D, people consider new applications for biotechnology. Research can be quite vague or very specific, and may range from research to learn more about a specific group of microorganisms to studies conducted in the medical community to identify areas of need. Investment in research tends to be broad to encourage innovation, since one never knows where the next great idea is going to come from. One researcher's sludge, for example, may be another researcher's momentous discovery.

In the development phase of biotech R&D, people think about how the research they conduct can be practically applied. For example, people might research genetics and use that information to develop genetic tests which can be used in medicine, forensics, and genealogy studies. One goal of the development process is to come up with reliable, cost effective applications for research. Sometimes, development peters out as people realize that a research project cannot be adapted for commercial use, or discover that existing technology is too limiting for research to be useful.

The end product of the biotech R&D process is, ideally, a product which can be sold on the open market. Along the way, tests are conducted to make sure that the product is standardized, to determine how it can be used, to establish safety limits, and so forth. This can take years and sometimes decades, and in some cases the R&D must be temporarily suspended while people wait for medicine, the law, ethics, or science to catch up with the products they are developing.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllTheScience researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By everetra — On Sep 27, 2011

@Mammmood - Well, I do understand the principle of the high price tag of research and development. That doesn’t prevent me from buying some of my medication from Canada however.

I get the cheaper, generic versions of the drug. Yes, I understand that Canada didn’t spend the money on research and development and that the drug companies need to make up that money.

But that doesn’t mean I have to buy brand name drugs, at least not if I can avoid it.

By Mammmood — On Sep 26, 2011

@NathanG - I am a great believer in a biotechnology R&D. I think everyone loves to hear the news of a new breakthrough drug that has arrived on the scene and cured a longstanding illness or at least helped to alleviate it tremendously.

I do have a bone to pick with those who complain about the billions of dollars that these biotechnology companies bring in each year, or even the price of the new drugs.

People need to realize that before the new drug hits the market, there may have been hundreds of prototypes of that drug that had to be created in the research and development phase. Billions of dollars are spent testing that drug before it can be released to the public.

That research and development money has to be recouped somehow, which is why at least the initial roll outs of the drug are expensive.

By NathanG — On Sep 25, 2011

@allenJo - That’s hilarious. Well, you proved one of the article’s points: your coffee “sludge” became a “treasure” for your lawn.

I think that’s the real genius too in biotechnology, and we’ve seen commercial applications that have demonstrated this maxim as well. For example, there is a whole emerging field of bio-fuels, where scientists are taking algae and by products that would normally be discarded as refuse and are turning them into energy.

It’s still a young field and the technology isn’t one hundred percent efficient yet, but I believe that biotech research and development is moving at a breakneck speed and will soon deliver cheap, environmentally safe solutions to all of our energy needs.

By allenJo — On Sep 24, 2011

If technology innovation can be as simple as the article describes it, then I have done my own share of biotechnology research and development.

When looking to fertilize my lawn this spring I did a lot of research about chemical and organic approaches to fertilization. To my amazement I discovered that you could actually make your own fertilizer.

It turns out that good old fashioned coffee grounds can be used as fertilizer. You can even use it to make your own compost if you mix it with leaves and stuff. I didn’t want to mess with the whole composting process, but I did spread coffee grains over my lawn.

I drink a lot of coffee so I wound up with a sizable bag of coffee grounds in short order, and I have to say, the stuff works. The lawn grew lush and green, and I saved a few pennies too.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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