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Nanomaterials April 2015 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Alastair Cunningham

Nanosensors for Medical Applications

Why is this topic significant?

Novel sensors that incorporate nanomaterials have the potential to revolutionize certain aspects of health care. Recent developments—including innovative business models and research developments—are likely to advance commercialization in this field.

Description

In February 2015, Roche, alongside the biomedical start-up company BioMed X, announced details of a new collaboration that aims to develop "a novel sensor technology platform…to combine state-of-the-art nanomaterials research with biomedical know-how." The companies are inviting the submission of research proposals—the best of which, based on both the research concept and the originator of the proposal, will receive full funding. This innovative approach to commercializing nanotechnology-based sensors for biomedical applications—combining major industrial players, start-up companies, and ideas that originate from individual researchers—could prove to be an effective means of bringing emerging technologies to market.

One such emerging technology, coming out of MIT, could represent a significant development in the field of nanosensors for biomedical applications. In February 2015, the researchers published the results of their research into a nanoparticle-based system that is capable of rapidly diagnosing the Ebola virus and other contagious diseases such as yellow fever and dengue fever. The device exploits technology similar to the technology in pregnancy tests, functionalizing metallic nanoparticles with antibodies that recognize various diseases. Color changes indicate the presence of viral proteins in blood samples. Users can carry out tests in a matter of minutes—a vast improvement on existing diagnostic methods, which can take as long as 48 hours. The researchers hope to attain approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for these devices before starting to roll out their use in countries in west Africa currently affected by the Ebola crisis.

Implications

The successful implementation of the BioMed X/Roche business model—inviting the submission of research proposals that they will then fund and support—could prove to be highly profitable for both companies. The model could help to bridge gaps between academia and industry—traditionally key barriers to commercialization. It represents a novel form of recruitment and has the potential to bring innovative ideas—along with lucrative intellectual property—to these companies.

The MIT nanosensor has the potential to revolutionize health care in developing countries. The device is cheap, requires no complex equipment, and can test for multiple diseases simultaneously. It would enable care workers to diagnose infectious diseases almost instantaneously, thus helping to prevent the spread of the diseases.

Impacts/Disruptions

If the Roche/BioMed X business model proves to be successful, it could become more prevalent, disrupting some of the more established research practices that are currently in place.

The introduction of inexpensive medical-diagnostic techniques could represent a significant shift toward the further democratization of health-care provision. Such a development is likely to have a pronounced impact in developing countries. The commercialization of nanomaterial-based sensors has the potential to disrupt more traditional diagnostic techniques.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Health care, research

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Commercial Developments in Nanopatches

Why is this topic significant?

Infectious diseases and bacterial infections cause the death of millions of people globally each year. Innovative means of vaccinating populations could help to curb these numbers.

Description

In February 2015, Vaxxas—the biomedical start-up that is focusing on the commercialization of its Nanopatch vaccination technology—announced $20 million of new investment in the company. Vaxxas states that it plans to use these funds to "advance a series of clinical programs and develop a pipeline of new vaccine products for major diseases using Vaxxas' patented Nanopatch platform." Vaxxas principally raised the capital through the Australian venture-capital firm OneVentures.

Nanopatches are essentially small silicon discs covered with an array of thousands of microscale needles that can penetrate the outer layer of human skin and deliver a dose of vaccine. This technology removes the need for injections, reduces the dose of vaccine necessary to achieve the desired results by as much as a factor of 100, and can completely eliminate the need to add adjuvants to the vaccine. Additionally, Vaxxas's technology has the advantage of directly targeting the skin—which has a high concentration of immune cells—as opposed to muscle tissue, which conventional vaccination systems often target.

Implications

This significant round of investment could instigate a large step forward in the commercialization of Vaxxas's vaccination platform. The funding will enable the company to progress from animal-based studies to initial human clinical trials and also establish manufacturing facilities in anticipation of the need for high volumes of product. According to a press release, Vaxxas is "pursuing strategic plans to both license its technology to global pharmaceutical companies as well as advance candidates on its own." The company is collaborating with Merck & Co to assess the Nanopatch platform for use with Merck-developed vaccines and with the World Health Organization to test Nanopatch for the delivery of polio vaccines.

Commercialization of this technology could provide crucial assistance to the significant portion of the global population that suffers from needle phobia. Other advantages include the ability to transport Nanopatches—which require no refrigeration—reliably and safely, the possibility of self-vaccination without the need for trained professionals, and the elimination of the spread of diseases through the sharing of needles.

Impacts/Disruptions

This development could have a significant impact on the provision of health care in developing countries, where the majority of deaths as a result of infectious diseases occur.

Vaxxas does not have a monopoly on this technology—other players are also making moves in this field. For example, in February 2015, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation awarded the Georgia Institute of Technology and Micron Biomedical $2.5 million to develop microneedle patches for polio immunization further. 3M is also in the process of developing a microneedle device that is ready for human clinical trials. However, despite the stiff competition, Vaxxas appears well placed to be one of the first to commercialize this technology.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Health care

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: