A 25-Year Retrospective on the Public's Perception of the Biopharmaceutical and Biotech Industry

This month, we rewind to an article titled "Demystifying the New Biology."
Mar 01, 2012
By BioPharm International Editors
Volume 25, Issue 3

The 1988 article discusses how the general public viewed science, and biology in particular, at the time it was written. "Even educated people remain wary of the new biology and a host of mysteries such as recombinant DNA and monoclonal antibodies" and "People do not understand what is occurring in the nation's laboratories," were just a few of the comments made by the author, Leonard Anderson (1). BioPharm asked its Editorial Advisory Board members to comment on how far the world has come in respect to understanding, acknowledging, and supporting the work of biotechnology. We also asked our board members whether they think the industry has done a better job of informing the public about its work and products, as the author suggested 25 years ago. Below are a few of their responses.

Gary Walsh, Associate Professor, Dept. of Chemical and Environmental Science and Materials, University of Limerick

"The public is invariably wary of the new and the unknown. However, 25 years on, 'modern' biotechnology is a mature science, with a positive track record, particularly as it applies to healthcare. Public acceptance has been encouraged via education and effective communication. For many years now, genetic engineering and related technologies have been included in the curriculum at secondary level. Moreover, the advent of the Internet has facilitated instant knowledge access which has, in turn, encouraged, if not demanded, improved communications from industry and educators alike. This change has helped demystify the science and applications of biotechnology and makes plainly obvious the profound positive impact that biotechnology has on medicine."

Michiel E. Ultee, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, Laureate Biopharmaceutical Services

"As one who has attended annual meetings of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) for the past 15 years, I have seen numerous protest movements at this meeting against biotechnology. However, they fall into two categories. First, genetically modified foods, where I have even seen protesters dressed as giant vegetables or fruits. Second, there has been a long-standing protest against the use of animal testing in R&D. Note, however, that these are general protests against pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, and are not restricted to biotechnology. I have not seen protests against biopharmaceuticals per se, which have seen explosive growth during the past 25 years with new blockbuster protein drugs for multiple indications.

"Furthermore, the public has become more aware of biopharmaceuticals in many ways, including through the many treated patients who have benefited from biotech drugs. There has been a resurgence of interest in jobs in applied biotechnology, resulting in collegiate majors such as Biomedical Engineering being one of the most popular today."

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