In recent years, however, the term "biotechnology" has come to mean the use of genetic engineering and its associated techniques. This more common definition is found in a variety of applications, from medicine to agriculture.
Amgen manufactures therapeutics based on molecules that already exist in the human body. Biotechnology is the process by which these natural components of the body are produced in sufficient quantities to use therapeutically.
Therapeutics produced in this way are virtually identical to naturally occurring materials. These products are usually proteins, and have a very specific physiological role. By contrast, traditional drugs are produced through synthetic organic chemistry, and are often less specific in their activity.
In creating our protein products, Amgen scientists often use the techniques of genetic engineering, including recombinant DNA technology. Starting with bacteria, yeast, or cultured animal cells, they introduce the information needed to produce a human protein with therapeutic potential. Once engineered, these cells can be grown in large quantities, often using the time-honored technique of fermentation.
During fermentation, single-celled organisms such as yeasts and bacteria grow on sugars and starches. Their growth produces alcohol, carbon dioxide and other by-products. (The bubbles in alcohol in beer are a result of this process, as are the holes in bread and some cheeses.) While fermenting, engineered cells produce large quantities of another important product: the desired human protein. Depending on how the cell was engineered, this protein is found either inside the cells or in the surrounding medium.
This addition of genetic material to cells gives the engineered proteins their name, recombinant proteins. It is these proteins that comprise the bulk of Amgen's work in biotechnology.