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Shrinking Discovery

This article was originally published in Start Up

Executive Summary

The theory that smaller is better--as it is has been in the computer industry--is now driving enthusiasm for nanotechnology, a term that refers to the process of manipulating materials at atomic scale. New players are crowding under this hot rubric, including many working at not nearly so small a scale. Drug discovery methods are among the most compelling near-term nano-applications, but start-ups face challenges like those met by micro-scale pioneers Affymetrix and Caliper. Firms must show they can physically create systems they describe, and that teeny discovery methods actually matter for bench scientists. Business models in this emerging sector reflect the difficulties of harnessing novel science in ways that will satisfy drugmakers who've become extra-tough customers under pressure to deliver commercial results in a shifting, financially depressed market. Some start-ups are working on a fee-for-service basis, on specific projects that address customers' immediate needs. Others are deliberately doing development work on their own, gathering data to attract partnerships that may prove all the more rewarding because of their measured starts.

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Is the FDA Ready for the Nanotechnology Revolution?

The burgeoning field of nanotechnology is creating hope as well as anxiety in the healthcare industry as researchers look for the best way to use the technology and the FDA grapples to create a policy for regulating products that incorporate the futuristic micro-miniature science. In health care, early focus has been on infection control products.

Nanotype GMBH

Nanotype GMBH has developed an assay system based on molecular force comparison, which measures the forces required to disrupt intermolecular bonds. The basic technology has potential applications in many industries, but the company will initially focus on health care, including drug discovery, genomics, proteomics and pharmacogenomics.

Oxonica Ltd.

Oxonica Ltd., which spun out of Oxford University in 1999, is commercializing nanoparticle phosphors as biolabels for genomic and proteomic applications in drug discovery and diagnostics. The company's platform also includes the application of its phosphor based technology platform in sunscreens, fuel catalysts, and flat-panel displays. These phosphors, which are metal-oxides ranging from 2nm to 100nm in size, emit very sharp, unique "signatures" of light when exposed to a stimulus such as UV light.

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