A Visionary Who Has Devoted His Life to Biopharmaceuticals

17 07 2019

An academic discussion, ’35 Years of Biopharma Innovations in Lithuania: How Will We Harness the Achievements?’, dedicated to the 70th birthday of Prof. Vladas Algirdas Bumelis, a full member of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, was held at the Academy on 3 July. In the discussion on the past, the present and the future of biotechnologies and biopharmaceuticals, on the people and ideas that have promoted their progress, Prof. Bumelis was joined by prof. Benediktas Juodka, the former long-standing president of the Academy and the chair of the Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Genetics of Vilnius University, Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys, a full member of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences and a recipient of the Kavli Prize, and Prof. Gintaras Valinčius, director of the Life Sciences Centre of Vilnius University.

They started their careers as chemists, but later turned to biochemistry, enzymology, or biotechnology. Prof. Bumelis remembered his early career when in 1984 he became the head of gene engineering laboratory at the ‘Fermentas’ enzymology institute. All participants in the discussion emphasised that progress in this field of science and technology rested on talented people driven by curiosity, such as Prof. Antanas Glemža (1938–2010), who stood at the source of applied enzymology in Lithuania, also Prof. Arvydas Janulaitis, Dr Vytautas Naktinis, and others. Founded on the initiative of Prof. Bumelis in 1994, the Department of Bio-engineering at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University made a marked contribution to the training of specialists. The personality of Vladas Algirdas Bumelis combines the talents of a researcher, an entrepreneur, and an organiser.  In as early as 1992, he established the joint Lithuanian-Chinese company that has been producing interferon alpha-2b up until now. Six years later he convinced Swiss businesspeople to invest in biopharmaceutical industry in Lithuania. Such consistent steps evolved into the success story that is currently illustrated by the companies TEVA/Sicor Biotech, Thermofisher Scientific Baltics, Biotechpharma, as well as a large number and success of other companies and start-ups.

Biotechpharma, which Prof. Bumelis founded in 2004, is a very characteristic example. A rapidly growing contract development and manufacturing organization located in Vilnius, is adding biologic drug substances and drug products to the list of goods exported throughout Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East.

While the company serves customers located around the world, there are plans to expand Biotechpharma’s physical footprint outside of Lithuania. Northway is a separate holding company located in California that may serve as a basis for the acquisition of process development companies in the region. U.S. customers would then be able to access process development capabilities more easily, with internal technology transfer to the manufacturing plant in Lithuania as their projects progress.

Thanks to this, biotechnologies are currently becoming a natural priority in Lithuania. The Ministry of Economy and Innovation is working on a special programme for promotion and funding of biotechnologies, while the representatives of the biopharmaceuticals and biotechnologies business are ever more convinced that these areas could create 5–7% of the GDP.

Prof. V. A. Bumelis’s new investment, of about 200 million euros, to the Celltechna plant in Lithuania will be a substantial contribution to it. The plant will not only synthesise new biopharmaceuticals but will also 3D print human organs using stem cells. The 35-year-long history of biopharmaceuticals shows that bold dreams and resolute actions empower one to achieve ultimate goals.

Dr. Rolandas Maskoliūnas, PR officer of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences