Green Transition Scenarios in Estonia

Report: Start-ups should be open to digitised cell line development

Experts see digitised cell line development as one of six key deep technologies for Estonia, with a breakthrough expected within the next twenty years. Estonia’s possibilities in this field are mainly linked to pharmaceutical development and personalised medicine, shows the Foresight Centre in its recent brief report “Digitised Cell Line Development: State of Play and Prospects”.

Foresight Centre Head of Research Uku Varblane explained that digitised cell line development is a tool for constructing cells and enzymes with improved or completely novel functionalities. “Developing cell lines with the help of digital technologies sounds like something out of science fiction for the uninitiated but a number of experts have estimated that if research and development continues, an artificial and autonomous cell could be created as early as within the next twenty years. Estonia would do well to stimulate research and development activities as well as the start-up scene so it would not miss the train, thus transforming the existing opportunities into future economic growth,” Varblane said.

Digitised cell line development reduces the need for lab tests and speeds up cell construction because it uses machine learning to find the best solutions – we could see it as accelerated biological evolution. Digitised cell line development can be useful in various fields, such as food production or medicine, and it holds a huge economic potential.

Estonia’s best opportunities in digitised cell line development are linked to the development of pharmaceuticals, with particular focus on gene therapy where Estonia has the advantage of existing competences as well as the collected health care data, including genetic data.

The Foresight Centre brief report also lists refining of biomass and food industry development as other opportunities for Estonia. The University of Tartu ERA Chair in Synthetic Biology has already started developing microbial strains that generate biochemicals and medicines which could give a valuable contribution to Estonia’s biochemical industry in the future.

The future of digitised cell line development depends on progress in other fields, such as synthetic biology, AI, genome editing, internet of things, nanotechnology, and robotics. “Future milestones will be about the accessibility and quality of data, increasing cost efficiency and preventing risks connected to cell development, such as the introduction of synthetic organisms into the environment or threats of bioterrorism,” Varblane emphasised.

According to Startup Estonia, Estonian technology companies that are active in digitised cell line development include Icosagen Cell Factory and Icosagen, which are working on scientific research and diagnostics of therapeutic antibodies and recombinant proteins. Other companies in the field are Solis BioDyne, which produces stabilised proteins, as well as ÄiO Tech and Gearbox BioSciences, which have different specialisations.

The brief report “Digitised Cell Line Development: State of Play and Prospects” is part of the Foresight Centre’s line of research “Green Transition Scenarios in Estonia”. The report is based on the study “Alternative development trajectories to deep technologies and their significance for Estonia” which CIVITTA Estonia carried out at the request of the Foresight Centre.

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