What are biologics?

 

monoclonal antibody, what are biologics, AIBN's Small Things Big Changes
The complexity of a monoclonal antibody (mAb)(above left) in comparison to an aspirin molecule (right inset). An aspirin molecule is 1/1000th the size of an mAb. 

Biological medical products, or ‘biologics’ for short, are isolated from natural sources such as microorganisms, plants, animals and humans.

They include vaccines, proteins, antibodies, hormones, allergens, as well as genes and other genetic material. Cells, tissues, blood and plasma are also considered biologics. 

Because biologics are complex, they can do things small molecules can’t.

They can interact in a highly specific way with targets in the body that are also complex, such as immune cells, large proteins, genomic DNA, and even entire tissues. A small molecule cannot mimic a large molecule like a protein or a stretch of genetic material, and it certainly can’t replace a blood cell. 

In other words, biologics are highly specific. 

They can be tailored to the task at hand, and that is incredibly valuable because it provides a much better chance of targeting the problem — such as a cancer cell, a pathogen or a poorly functioning gene — while ideally leaving healthy cells alone. 

Growing MedicinesAspirin pill, what are biologics, AIBN's Small Things Big Changes

Here is an interesting bit of chemistry trivia: a single tablet of aspirin contains trillions of aspirin molecules, and each one consists of only 21 atoms. Meanwhile, the diabetes drug metformin has only 20 atoms and the multiple sclerosis drug dalfampridine has 13.

Lithium carbonate? Just 6 atoms. Due to their small size and simple structures, these drugs are relatively straightforward to synthesise in a laboratory and at industrial scales. In fact, most pharmaceuticals are small molecules, but much larger molecules called biologics are on the rise and could soon account for half of all therapeutic and preventative medicines.

 

 

Small Things Big Changes Volume 1: Advanced Biomanufacturing, AIBN. This article is an extract from AIBN's Small Things Big Changes Volume 1

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