Nanotech to make big drug R&D impact

By Wai Lang Chu

- Last updated on GMT

According to a new report nanotechnology tools for drug discovery
will grow from $580 million (€471.6 million) in 2004 to $1.1
billion in 2010, driven by corporate R&D and new commercial
applications.

Interest in nanotechnology has increasingly focused on applications ranging from drug therapeutics to cancer treatments, which especially make use of nanotechnology's ability to differentiate cell type without damaging healthy cell structure.

The idea of using nanoparticles as a therapeutic 'Trojan horse', attacking the cancer cell by stealth from within, is entirely new, and demonstrates the possibilities nanotechnology has.

The report published by Lux Research​, details nanotechnologist's use of three principal categories of tools - critical in the success of this emerging technology. These elements are inspection tools to visualise nanostructures, fabrication tools used to make nanostructures, and modelling tools to predict nanostructures' properties.

The current market for nanotechnology tools is dominated by inspection tools, which account for 95 per cent of 2004 revenue and saw dramatic growth during the early 2000s nanotech explosion, when many university nanoscience centres were constructed. The growth outlook for the next five years, however, looks very different.

Nanotechnology has empowered scientists to manipulate materials at the atomic level. This remarkable ability enables manufacturers to offer materials with customisable properties such as unsurpassed electrical as well as optical conductivity and mechanical strength.

"Growth for nanotech inspection tools through 2010 depends on corporate R&D, because the university and national lab market is saturated,"​ said Lux Research Analyst Vahe Mamikunian, co-author of the report.

"In fabrication and modelling, growth prospects look much stronger - applications for nanoimprint lithography, a prominent fabrication tool, will grain traction through 2010, and modelling will see higher adoption as vendors like Accelrys offer improved commercial tools,"​ he added.

Nanotechnology has also been singled out as a tool, which could make the difference in an industry, which faces growing regulatory and pricing pressures. In addition there is the threat of antibiotic resistance seen in some disease-causing microorganisms and solid cancerous tumours.

While the predicted growth of nanotech tools as a whole is steady at a compound annual growth rate of 11 per cent, the individual categories each tell a different story.

According to the report, inspection tools like scanning probe microscopes (SPMs) and electron microscopes (EMs) will experience tepid single-digit growth as the academic market stalls and the smaller corporate base requires time to take off.

Microscopy has become the focus of nanotechnology primarily because images of biological samples will ultimately be a significant contributor to drug discovery.

New imaging techniques envisioned involve attaching antibodies specific to individual proteins to the tip of an atomic force microscopes' probe. When an antibody reacts with the targeted protein, it creates a variance in the microscope's reading compared to a reading with a bare tip, showing the protein's presence.

In addition, fabrication tools, will grow at double-digit rates as applications gain traction and as these tools move beyond R&D labs onto manufacturing floors.

The report predicts modelling tools to experience strong growth over the next five years, as software makers concentrate on improving accuracy and enhancing ease of use.

Dr. Michael Holman, Lux Research analyst and report co-author said that there was an expectation that nanotech inspection tools would see a big boost from being adopted by nanomaterials manufacturers for quality control in the factory.

"The nanomaterials manufacturers we spoke to tell us that faster and cheaper alternatives are available for routine quality control, and that they only need inspection tools like scanning probe microscopes and electron microscopes for process development and spot checks,"​ he said.

"When these companies begin shipping products, they don't see the need to buy new tools beyond what they already have for R&D."

Related topics: Preclinical Research

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