A recent report claims that nanobiotechnology is under growing pressure to fulfil its potential and repay the private and public funding that has been invested towards this emerging science sector.
Nanobiotechnology deals with nanomaterials and their applications in life sciences. Breakthrough applications in nanoscale therapeutics, drug delivery systems, and nano-scale scaffolds for tissue reconstruction are surfacing from laboratories into the development phase.
The technology has not quite taken off as expected as scientists have expressed concerns as to its safety. For example, activists have raised concerns about their potential toxicity to humans and animals.
Even miniscule alterations to the surface of the nano-based structures can affect how toxic they are to individual cells. Toxicity is desirable for example, for particles that kill cancer cells or harmful bacteria. In other cases, like applications where particles may make their way into the environment - toxicity is undesirable.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan reveals that sales of nanomaterials for use in nanobiotechnology applications generated revenues of $750 million (€615 million) in 2004. Assuming that the concerns can be addressed in time, this figure is projected to reach $2,06 billion in 2011.
The onus is now on participants in the nanobiotechnology applications sector to incorporate extensively researched technologies into commercially viable products.
"Industry participants need to focus on collaborating well with interdisciplinary research partners to ensure sustainable growth of this emerging market," said Phil Webster, Frost & Sullivan's industry analyst.
The report said that nanobiotechnology was competing with other technologies such as conventional therapeutics, liposomes, and monoclonal antibodies. These therapies currently have the advantage as they are the better established and have the regulatory compliance and case law in place, unlike nanobiotechnology.
As an emerging segment, nanobiotechnology holds great potential in the treatment of neurological disorders and cancer, which are areas of unmet medical need.
One particular application in which the FDA has given initial approval for is Advanced Magnetics' Combidex technology.
Combidex (ferumoxtran-10) consists of iron oxide nanoparticles for use in conjunction with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to aid in the differentiation of cancerous from non-cancerous lymph nodes.
Clinical studies have shown that Combidex accumulates in non-cancerous lymph node tissue, which enables doctors using magnetic resonance imaging to have improved diagnostic confidence in differentiating between normal and diseased lymph nodes.
While devising new applications for nanobiotechnology, competing companies will have to take into account the costs of nanomaterials. Since nanomaterials have not generated much demand owing to the small quantities in which they are required, it is unfeasible to establish large-scale automated manufacturing systems.
The report identified reactionary funding as proving essential to the establishment of the nanobiotechnology market. Significant public and private investment in nanobiotechnology are sponsoring research projects in academia and facilitating the establishment of start-up and spin-off companies for commercialising nanobiotechnology applications.
"The funds have been used to set up sound infrastructure, particularly in the US and Europe, for small companies to network and collaborate," said Webster.
"It is essential for industry participants to be aware of what funding sources are available and where, as this indicates hot spots of business opportunity," he added.