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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > NanotechnologyKTN > Exploring the Convergence of Nanotechnologies and Life Sciences

Fiona Brewer

Exploring the Convergence of Nanotechnologies and Life Sciences
Dr Mike Fisher, Theme Manager Bionano & Nanomedicine, Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN)

Earlier this year the NanoKTN held its first conference in the bionano market, Nano4Life 2009, which explored the opportunities that nanotechnology holds for the life science industry. The conference brought together leading medtech and pharmaceutical companies, with academic researchers and research funders, to encourage networking, offering an opportunity for those in the market to look at current research trends and match these with the needs of industry, healthcare providers and patients.

June 23rd, 2009

Exploring the Convergence of Nanotechnologies and Life Sciences

Numerous studies have shown that not only does nanotechnology offer solutions to current issues but that it is the wave of the future that will create the next opportunities for investment growth. How, when and where this will happen is, as always, difficult to foresee.

Current examples are medical imaging systems that can now be developed with extremely high resolution. These systems are being used in two ways - diagnosis of diseases such as cancer and neurological disorders, and secondly, in the drug development process. Current technologies are capable of creating images of where in the body drugs are localising. A drug may have high potency in vitro, but if it becomes localised in an area away from the disease site when placed in the body, its efficacy is dramatically diminished and side effects can occur. Imaging systems can be used to track radioactive-labelled drugs and identify exactly where they are absorbed and distributed in real time, producing 3-dimentional pictures of drug localisation in the body. This is being widely adopted in aiding early go / no-go decisions in product development.

Using nanotechnology in diagnostics means that by reducing the size and cost of equipment, sensors can be made available at the point of care. In many cases, providing a diagnosis whilst the patient is with the doctor can ensure the right treatment is received early, avoiding complications caused by delays. Micro and nano diagnostic devices can also provide closed-loop systems, which continuously monitor patients and immediately respond to changes in physiological conditions. This is particularly important in Intensive Care Units (ICU) where simple parameters, such as oxygen levels, can be critical and also important in ensuring drug concentrations are within the therapeutic range. There is a significant number of small companies developing these ‘lab-on-a-chip' technologies, due to the amount of research funding available and the relative ease (when compared to pharmaceuticals), of regulatory approval. The issue here is that not all will, or can make it to the market and it is envisioned that the successful products will be those that can provide an all in one solution for primary care use. This will require integration of multiple systems, or the production of a standardised platform technology that will be adopted by healthcare systems generally.

A second application of diagnostics is that of lab on a pill. Similar to lab on a chip systems, these devices, which are still at the research stage, are designed to be swallowed and then wirelessly report physiological conditions as they pass through the digestive tract. With these systems, power supply is key - the ‘pill' in question must have enough power to run for 24 hours, transmit wirelessly through human tissue and also perform diagnostic tests.

Whilst all these products are obviously novel and include the latest technologies, one must not forget that there must be an unmet medical need addressed by the solution offered and also that patients, doctors and healthcare payers will want to use and purchase the product. For example, with bespoke therapies offered by tissue engineering, the question of health technology assessment and value for money will appear - for example, would these products be approved by the National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence. Companies must ensure that these stakeholders see a demand and there is a market for the product before they invest the necessary large sums into product development.

Nanotech has a lot to offer the pharmaceutical and medical industry and if it follows previous technology examples such as biotech, the successful early adopters will reap the rewards. It still has a number of hurdles to leap, such as a clear regulatory pathway and a demonstration of value above and beyond current technologies, before it can become mainstream. To help address this, there are significant efforts by industry and governments to help jump the technology adoption gap quickly and ensure nanotech can assist in developing the next generation of products that are needed to solve some of the significant unmet medical needs faced by patients and healthcare professionals.

The NanoKTN aims to cover many of the issues and opportunities covered in the bionano and nanomedicine area, enabling companies and entrepreneurs to be successful in generating the next wave of medical products, through the use of nanotechnology.

As a result of the bionano and nanomedicine community's feedback received at the Nano4Life conference, the NanoKTN has developed two new focus groups within the areas said to be of most importance, NanoPharma and NanoMedicine.

NanoPharma has been developed as a result of nanotechnology now being able to provide solutions to challenges in drug discovery, development and formulation. The NanoPharma focus group will examine the opportunities and issues that nanotechnology offers the UK biotech and pharmaceutical industries. A steering committee has already been set up and includes Pfizer, AstraZeneca, GSK, the London School of Pharmacy and the Wellcome Trust. The committee will hold their first meeting at the end of July 2009 to set up direction for the focus group.

NanoMedicine is the second new focus group in the bionano and nanomedicine area to be developed. This focus group will look at the clinical application of nanotechnology, including medical imaging. GE Healthcare, Leeds Royal Infirmary and The Wolfson Centre for Molecular Imaging are already confirmed members of the steering committee who will meet in the coming months to discuss plans for the focus group.

The addition of these two focus groups, along with the already existing NanoMiTE focus group (Nano-Structured Materials for Tissue Engineering) and BioSIG (Biosensors Special Interest Group, in partnership with the Sensors & Instrumentation KTN), will ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of this exciting technology area.

Further information on the NanoKTN and its activities in the field of bionano and nanomedicine, can be found at

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