In an election year where healthcare (and particularly the greed of Big Pharma) is constantly being discussed, Fast Company‘s most innovative biotechnology companies reflect the push in pharmaceuticals to not just find lucrative cures, but focus on desperately needed, less-profitable solutions. From Merck’s rapidly developed Ebola vaccine to Vertex’s life-changing treatment for cystic fibrosis (a rare but deadly genetic disease that affects some 30,000 Americans) to Sage Therapeutics’ push into a new class of mood disorder drugs, these honorees highlight science’s ability to solve issues for even the most complex and niche disorders, diseases, and conditions, when companies are willing to invest in them.
For deploying an FDA-approved Ebola vaccine in Congo
During a 2014 outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, drug giant Merck set out to find a better solution than “more gloves and bleach.” The company licensed a vaccine for the virus from New Link Genetics and set to work rapidly developing, manufacturing, and deploying it, sending more than 250,000 doses to Congo to combat the most recent outbreak. There, it proved to reduce mortality among exposed patients by at least 88%. The vaccine received FDA approval in December.
Read more about why Merck is one of the Most Innovative Companies of 2020.
For developing a treatment for postpartum depression
Sage Therapeutics’ first FDA-approved drug is Zulresso, a treatment for postpartum depression (PPD) and the first-ever treatment specifically for the disorder. The 60-hour IV infusion alleviates symptoms almost immediately, and represents a new class of drugs Sage hopes to bring to market. The company’s research and trials focus on targeting neuroreceptors to help mood disorders (rather than traditional neurotransmitters). An oral medication for major depressive disorder won breakthrough designation from the FDA in 2018, and is currently in trials.
Read more about why Sage Therapeutics is one of the Most Innovative Companies of 2020.
For improving cystic fibrosis patients’ breathing
In 2019, Vertex Pharmaceuticals received FDA approval for Trikafta, a drug that could help 90% of patients with cystic fibrosis. The genetic disorder, which has a life expectancy of 44 years for patients today, causes a buildup of thick mucus in the body, particularly the lungs, and causes difficulty breathing. In trials of more than 400 patients, Trikafta increased lung function by 13.8% versus a placebo, decreased hospitalizations, and improved quality of life.
Read more about why Vertex is one of the Most Innovative Companies of 2020.
4. Theranica Bioelectronics
For treating migraine pain with a wearable electronic stimulation device
Israeli company Theranica Bioelectronics’ Nerivio uses electrical impulses to alleviate migraine pain. The device wraps around the upper arm, is controlled by an app, and reportedly helped 66.7% of patients achieve pain relief.
For managing weight loss with a hydrogel capsule that stimulates fullness
The FDA cleared Gelesis’s Plenity in April 2019 as an aid for weight management (in conjunction with diet and exercise). The prescription capsule, which is made of naturally-derived ingredients, uses hydrogel to simulate fullness in users’ stomachs, helping them eat less.
6. Avita Medical
For reducing burn victims’ need for grafts by 35% with “spray on” skin cells
Avita Medical’s “spray on” skin cells launched commercially in the U.S. in January 2019, following FDA approval. In studies, the system reduced the length of hospital stays for victims by 30%, cut costs by 30%, and resulted in 35% fewer procedures.
7. Syqe Medical
For fashioning the first programmable inhalation device for drug delivery—starting with cannabis
In 2019, the Syqe Inhaler received the world’s first-ever regulatory approval from the Israeli Ministry of Health as a medical device combined with cannabis. The programmable inhalation device pairs a hot new method of drug delivery with a landmark cannabis-medical device.
8. Intermountain Healthcare
For initiating the largest single-population genomics study
In 2019, Intermountain Healthcare announced its partnership with Decode Genetics to conduct the largest-ever single-population genomics study in history. The HerediGene Population Study looks for links between genetics and disease. It will include half a million people, primarily in Utah.
9. Pivot Bio
For helping farmers grow more corn
Pivot Bio launched the first commercially available nitrogen-producing microbial product for plant nutrition in corn, which yielded a 7.7-bushel-per-acre advantage in 11,000 on-farm trials, compared to chemical fertilizer alone. In 2019, the company conducted field trials evaluating microbes that provide nitrogen to wheat, with additional R&D focused on rice and soybeans.
For accelerating the hunt for disease-fighting antibodies
AbCellera focuses on discovering therapeutic antibodies, using the body’s natural immune system to potentially fight cancer, arthritis, pain, and other conditions. Currently, its antibody discovery technology is being mobilized in the coronavirus outbreak, as part of DARPA’s Pandemic Prevention Platform.
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