In what context was Addgene founded, and what vision do you hope to advance in the industry?
Addgene's story started in 2004 with Melina Fan, a Harvard PhD student who asked labs around the world for copies of the proteins encoded in plasmids to conduct her research. She waited in frustration for many months and received responses from only some of the labs. The difficulties in obtaining these biological materials directly affected her ability to carry out the research but she soon learned that she was not alone in this, as many other scientists experienced the same hurdles. She decided to do something about it and teamed up with two other graduate students, Kenneth Fan and Benjie Chen, and founded Addgene. Our vision remains the same as theirs did 19 years ago: to accelerate research and innovation by making the sharing of research materials easier and faster. Fast-forward to today and Addgene is among the world's foremost nonprofit biorepositories that distribute high quality biological materials to scientists worldwide.
What is Addgene’s global footprint?
We currently ship materials to 110 different countries. Addgene is a major distributor of plasmids, which are used to fuel the surge in gene and cell editing innovation. For example, in 2022 we shipped 26,000 CRISPR-related materials to over 8500 laboratories around the world. In the last year, over half of the plasmids shipped went to labs outside of the United States.
Our viral vectors service began six years ago and is our fastest growing product category, with over 32,000 samples shipped last year.
Our growing collection of antibodies launched last year and currently contains 75+ recombinant ready-to-use antibodies. In response to feedback from our community, we offer both trial and full-size materials and have distributed over 230 samples to date.
Our global reach is even greater when we look at how many people access freely available information about our extensive collection of materials, tools, and education resources from our website. This past year our website welcomed 2.2 million visitors from 231 countries. Our blog is one of our most popular resources used by visitors from over 200 countries with more than 1.3 million pageviews over the last 12 months.
Who are the primary beneficiaries of the materials you make available?
Scientists all over the world – from academic and nonprofit organizations, industry, or high schools – can access our collection of materials and resources.
What are you most excited about when it comes to the life science sector right now, among all that is going on?
Anything in science could be exciting since we do not yet know what all the possibilities are. For example, many new scientific questions can be answered with CRISPR-mediated gene editing. Science gives a myriad of opportunities, from the empowerment of individuals making choices about their health, all the way to the investments governments are pouring into scientific research to solve big societal challenges, like a pandemic or climate change.
In the case of the pandemic, science has become much more mainstream but with that visibility comes a lot of responsibility. We need to make sure that we are transparent in our methods and findings, but we should also set clear expectations when it comes to timelines. The accelerated time between the release of the COVID-19 sequence to the development of the vaccine was unprecedented in recent history. It has now set the expectation that the time from scientific discovery to therapeutic treatments is short, but it is important to understand that the underlying scientific discoveries that made the development of the vaccine possible had been going on for decades prior.
On the flip side, what still remains challenging in the industry and how can we overcome these nuisances?
Funding for scientific research can be very expensive. Increased investments in scientific research during the pandemic led to critical scientific advances in research but funding for research must be sustained for the life sciences to help solve the next problems that society will face. The inflation of the last couple of years and increased transportation costs and supply chain shortages had a huge impact on the prices of goods and services for all industries. As a result, our ability to ship materials to scientists worldwide has been hampered by these challenges. Furthermore, an unequal level of accessibility to scientific advancements, like a vaccine, has meant that many marginalized communities are still gravely underserved.
Nationalism can get in the way of scientific advancement. There needs to be international collaboration and cooperation despite geopolitical events. It is incredibly important that scientists can freely exchange ideas and talent with each other. There also lies immense power in observing and learning from other countries both success stories, as well as failures.
What are you hoping to achieve with Addgene in the following couple of years?
We want to build on our long history of helping scientists in a rapidly changing environment for the life sciences. First, we want to expand our suite of products and services to support more research and innovation around the world. Second, we want to play our part in facilitating equitable access to science. This could mean extending our global reach to partner with and support communities that have been under-represented or underserved in science. Last, we want to understand what challenges remain in materials sharing, information sharing, and research reproducibility, as well as what new opportunities or developments are emerging for accelerating open science. We could leverage all the information that we hold, as well as our partnerships and networks, to promote open science that could give rise to new and formidable opportunities.
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