Illustration of chromosome, beakers, DNA strand and other objects representing biotech and biopharma.

Biotechnology is any technology that’s based on biology. Products that use living systems and organisms qualify as biotechnology. For thousands of years, the earliest farmers produced food and bred crops by utilizing a form of biotechnology.

Most people, however, associate biotechnology with modern applications. These applications help treat disease, enhance the environment and improve manufacturing processes.

In 2016, the global biotech industry was estimated to be worth $369.62 billion. By 2025, it is expected to be worth $727.1 billion.

But what about biotech vs biopharma? These linked fields have some similarities and differences that the following sections will explore.

What is Biopharma?

Biopharma is a subset of the pharmaceutical industry. Professional services recruitment firm Morgan McKinley defines these two business areas in this way:

Pharmaceutical companies produce medicines that cure or manage diseases and protect people from infection. While products can include vitamins, livestock feed supplements and animal health products, the main products of the pharmaceutical industry are drugs that treat human illness. For this, plant- and chemical-based compounds are used to produce medicines.

Biopharma medicines and drug products are manufactured in living organisms like bacteria, yeast and mammalian cells. The prefix “bio” refers to how drugs are produced. Biopharma is the subset of drugs produced by biological methods. Pharmaceutical drugs cover biological means as well as chemical synthesis.

Biotech vs. Biopharma

A considerable amount of biotech research and production makes its way into the biopharma industry. In fact, a significant focus of the biotech industry is focused on medicine.

Since biotech refers to products that result from biology, and biopharma refers to drugs manufactured from biological processes, any medical breakthroughs in biotechnology can be considered biopharma. Some like cancer-fighting virotherapy could become biopharma products if released on a wider scale.

The two terms are interrelated. Biopharma drugs result from biotech research or processes. Perhaps the biggest application in biotech is medicines and drugs, which is essentially biopharma. In other words, all biopharma products result from biotech, and a majority of biotech research and development has the potential to lead to biopharma products. There is considerable overlap between biotech and biopharma.

A major practical difference between biotech and biopharma is research. There is a great deal of initial research and development that has to take place in biotech. Some biotech research never pans out despite initial investigations into processes researchers hoped would result in the next step toward fighting cancer, a new way to improve crop resistance, an opportunity to cut greenhouse gas emissions, or another application.

Biopharma research and development, on the other hand, is often much more focused on taking promising applications from biotech and commercializing them into medical products.

Help Innovate and Make an Impact in the World

Biopharma is one market that is taking advantage of biotech research. And given how fast the biotechnology field is growing, there’s never been a better time to join this industry. Biotechnology professionals are in demand to help with product development, marketing, sales, product management and to serve in C-level positions.