With the potential for targeted therapy, and therefore reduced side effects, nanomedicine holds the promise of significantly improving quality of life parameters. At the same time, the adoption of nanotechnology-based applications by large therapeutic and diagnostic companies is accelerating the development of nanomedicine.
The prospect of site-specific therapeutic action and by extension of fewer side effects means that nanomedical applications have an enhanced risk-benefit analysis ratio. This is motivating their growing popularity as a therapeutic option.
"Furthermore, with techniques for early diagnosis of diseases and, in some cases, their disposition, prophylactic (preventive) intervention could well become a reality with the advent of nanomedicine," notes Rajaram Sankaran, Analyst from Frost & Sullivan. "With such prophylactic interventions, it might be possible to postpone or even completely avoid diseases, in some instances."
Key to nanomedicine's rapid evolution has been the embrace of nanotechnology-based applications by pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals and drug delivery companies. Prominent instances include the use of Elan Corporation's NanoCrystal technology by Wyeth and Merck and the deployment of Quantum Dot Corporation's Qdot(r) particles by Pfizer, GSK, Astra Zeneca and Genentech.
Apart from such encouraging trends in the commercial sector, academia also has been instrumental in promoting the growth of nanomedicine. Innovation has been the leitmotif even as industry-academia partnerships have daily expanded the frontiers of nanomedical research.
However, while nanotechnology holds the promise of transforming the medical field, several challenges still remain. One of the most immediate issues confronting pure-play nanomedicine companies is the need to develop expertise across a range of technologies.
Forming synergistic collaborations with drug and medical device companies represents one of the most obvious routes of achieving such multi-disciplinary proficiency. Initially, such partnerships could take the form of joint marketing efforts, paving the way for nanomedical companies to independently handle all stages from R&D to commercialisation, in the long run.
Another important concern in the nanomedical arena has been the question of scalability - the ability to cost-effectively manufacture three-dimensional nano-structures in large-scale quantities. This challenge is rooted in the current lack of appropriate manufacturing standards for nanotechnology materials and components.
"There is a pressing need for standardised manufacturing techniques for nanotechnology-based components," cautions Mr. Sankaran. "This is especially required if nanotechnology-based applications need to graduate to the big league and become ubiquitous in everyday applications. While they have the potential, an appropriate set of standards would help them reach there."
At the same time, the unique characteristics of nano-scale matter also demand appropriate quality-control measures. The implementation of comprehensive manufacturing standards and quality-control measures is expected to be central to the sustained growth of nanomedicine.
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