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The confluence of nanotechnology and biotechnology is creating opportunities and an emerging industry, nanobiotechnology, with tremendous potential for economic and social value creation. The medical applications of nanobiotechnology are promising, including effectively targeted drug delivery - imagine highly efficacious cancer treatment with few side effects - and real time, minimally invasive diagnostics. But there is little known about the emergence of this industry or of ways to reap the possible benefits.
Now an international research team at MIT, Simon Fraser University and the University of New South Wales has stepped in to study the phenomenon. A groundbreaking study recently published in Nature Nanotechnology (see www.nature.com/nnano/journal/v9/n1/fig_tab/nnano.2013.288_ft.html), examined the emergence and evolution of nanobiotechnology through tracking firms with capabilities in both biotechnology and nanotechnology. More than 500 firms have entered the field worldwide since 1990, and it is expected to soon triple in size from $20 billion to over $60 billion in sales. The team also studied two cases of breakthrough inventions - Doxil® and Zevalin® - both of which are effectively targeted cancer therapeutics (see www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0923474813000775)
Innovation, and the growth of new industries, is thought to be more likely when a firm occupies the confluence or convergence of distinct streams of emerging technology. Research progress at the intersection of fields is probably more likely to occur when cross-disciplinary new product development teams are designed by the organization and when routines and processes are designed to support cross-disciplinary learning. A confluence of technologies is characterized both by the bringing together of formerly disparate fields of knowledge, and by the creation of new product markets. When a confluence of technology streams occurs, rich opportunities for experiment and progress may result, suggests Professor James Utterback of MIT.
Strategies that one might suggest as particularly useful for enabling innovation would include importing ideas from broad networks and diverse sources, hiring persons from diverse backgrounds, and creating an environment conducive to deep collaboration. This would include co-location of diverse groups, creating a culture and which encourages vigorous debate and differences in perspective.
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MIT Sloan School of Management
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