Wednesday, July 13, 2005

NANOTECH INVESTING - Worth Reading

Ann M. Thayer,"Nanotech Investing", Chemical and Engineering News, 83:18, May 2, 2005, pp. 17-24.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

I get a lot of requests for what sources I recommend to learn about nanotechnology. I am putting together a reading list which will be on our NIRT website http://nsts.nano.sc.edu/).

However, in the process of editing a section of my book, the chapter that deals with entrepreneurs, I was incredibly pleased to come across Ann's article. While it will time out, it remains one of the more succinct and better written pieces that describes the firms involved in nanotechnology against the public offerings and venture investment questions.

Read and enjoy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Report from the Front - NMAB-NAS

I recently attended a two day meeting on June 27-28 held by the NMAB of the NAS on the NNI. They were mostly interested in the technology transfer coming from the current investment in the NNI.

A summary follows along with some observations.

Roco started the presentations on the "state of the NNI." He presented his typical power point presentation (timeline across four generations, schematic on investment, long-term vision, timeline against international investments, individual and state contributions, general program components, and international activities).

Teague followed with comments on scientific accomplishments. He claimed that since the inception of the NNI over 4000 individual and small group projects were funded. Some of the projects he highlighted were gold nanoshells, a new model for molecular transport, nanoscale mass conveyors, atom based rule for silicon, and EHS implication (esp. the nano-C60 studies).

Metzbacher spoke on technology transfer. She reported on SBIR and STTR components used to assist in technology transfer, covered publication and citation records as well as patent trends, and offered an important comment on time-scales to measure tech transfer. She went on to offer comparative data on other countries with a tech transfer process.

In questioning, Roco argued that since the USA does not have an industrial policy per se and we need an international view of tech transfer as well as a better understanding on how the USA holds up. There was a question on exit strategies post NNI but that didn't go anywhere. The first meeting emphasized tech transfer. Indeed, one of the calls for the committee was to evaluate tech transfer as a product of the NNI. However, 1. The NNI is not an independent funding entity; it is an umbrella under which different agencies fund initiatives, 2. Tracking a technology directly back to a specific source of funding and determining how much of a given technology is the direct result of that funding is nearly impossible, and 3. It is too early to use the tech transfer metric to evaluate the NNI. Everyone seems to agree on this, nonetheless the review committee kept harping on it. It is quizzical the Congress that refuses to fund ATP wants to know how the NNI is producing tech transfer that was the foundational purpose of the ATP program. Thinking programs like SBIR can fill the tech transfer funding gap is misguided.

The afternoon meeting was on value.

Marlene Bourne talked about nano as a general purpose technology and concluded it was difficult to track. Hardly ground-shattering!

Derrick Boston of Guth/Christopher LLD discussed some lab to fab challenges and some of the challenges associated with cross-discipline communication from his experience with the California NanoSystems Initiative. Here was an area that has been completely under-examined. He also called for VC funding models as a tech transfer tool to be re-examined. The truth is VC plays a minor role in the lab to fab process.

Bart Romanowicz of NSTI discussed efforts at continuing education courses for professionals. Though this might have been interesting, there was no follow-up.

During questioning, the role of VC was re-situated as minor in the process of tech transfer and there was some discussion on perceptual roadblocks though this area was under-examined. The usual funding gap, absent ATP, was highlighted, though it was odd how readily the SBIR program was discussed as an ATP stopgap. When asked about paradigm shifting technologies, there was a palpable sense that no one has attempted to catalogue these. When dealing with emerging technologies, by definition some extrapolation becomes necessary. They are emerging and no one has found a methodology to make reasonable projections. I had a brief discussion with one of the members of the panel, and we noted that if we closely studied the introduction of plastics we might find a way to produce a projective algorithm. By and large, most of the discussion was about the mundane, which is odd given some of the recent advances in protein engineering. There was some discussion about EHS and public understanding but it was reduced to a series of normative claims. IP and patents were discussed but nothing was added to the usual hand-wringing on overlapping claims and USPTO support, which as I have written elsewhere seems to be a PR blitz by patent attorneys to generate business.

The theme for day one was the unique potential of the NNI. There was a call for home runs from the committee, which seemed to be a call for hypebole, especially when NNCO people in the room hadn't catalogued successes to date.

On the 28th, the committee met again. This time the discussion was to examine the unique impacts of nanotech on the economy.

It began with Matthew Nordan from Lux Capital. His presentation was loaded with specific references and information. He made a cogent argument that nanotech was not like biotech and offered an interesting metaphor. Nano as a general purpose technology is more like the assembly line as a technology. This is fascinating for a bunch of reasons. 1. It gives us a model that we can examine to distill a methodology to examine value that takes us past the tech transfer head count. 2. The same metrics used by industries deciding to move to assembly line processed might be transferable to an evaluation of nano. 3. There is an ocean of data on efficiencies associated with assembly line processes. Lux has a value chain document that might be worth examining.

Andrew Dunn of Cientifica was next. He made two major comments. Nanotechnology is actually nanotechnologies. While this might seem unimpressive, it actually situates the debate whereby a uni-variable metric might be unjustified. Next, he called attention to the privacy issues associated with nanotechnology. Anecdotally, I visited with a group of social scientists doing focus group research recently, and I noticed that Americans seemed less concerned about EHS than about privacy.

Joanne Feeney from Punk Ziegel offered little to the discussion per se. Actually, I found her under-informed or under-prepared.

Floyd Kvamme of PCAST was next. He situated the discussion around the 2% rule on product competitiveness and spent some time discussing the challenges of capital investment.

In questioning and discussion, there was a comment on the ballistic effects of some advances which I found interesting. Kvamme mentioned the 90 nm chip as a potential variable. There was a case made that state funding cannot replace federal funding because states are building infrastructures while federal money is funding research. There were some comments on supply and excess capacity and a mention on Korea's entry into the international nanomarket as a supplier. There was a noteworthy discussion over labor including foreign students choosing to return to their native countries and some difficulties associated with post-911 visa restrictions. How specialized the workforce needs to be was finally discussed when Feeney claimed a lot of the people will need technical training rather than full-blown PhDs. You don't need a PhD to operate an STM.

The next group was to discuss the impact of NNI funding on industrial base development.

Tom Kalil reviewed his recent article in ISSUES (see Lane and Kalil, "The NNI: Present at the Creation, Summer 2005, http://www.issues.org/issues/21.4/html) calling for an Apollo level effort and more EHS funding. He called for funding the GAP which means re-examining the ATP program and getting the government back into the lab to fab game.

Sean Murdock from NbA was next up. He offered a set of principles which included more realistic expectation and a longer-term outlook, helping university tech transfer offices to look beyond the immediate need to generate operating budgets and offer real services.

In discussion, Kalil said it might be prudent to return to the set of grand challenges to determine roles played by nano. He offered an interesting anecdote: had we examined ARPANET after only five years we might have decided it was inefficient! Everyone agreed it was simply too soon. What followed were some clarifications of funding levels of the NNI against programs like the DOD's, etc.

The final group was to discuss the state of technology transition to government goals.

Greg Downing from the NIH/NCI discussed directions and offered another simile of "bench to bedside" to describe NIH's “lab to fab” perspective. There was a brief examination of the NCI's Unconventional Innovations Program (see http://otir.nci.nih.gov/tech/uip.html) .

Barbara Karn from EPA discussed implication, especially bioaccumulation issues, end-of-life implications and some nano-remediation work being done.

David Stepp from DOD said the best thing the NNI did was bring people together (kumbaya!). In general, he added that DOD money might have been more productive spent elsewhere in the defense portfolio. He added there is really no line item for nano research -- all proposals are competitive. He remarked that nanotubes have been overhyped.

Minoo Dastoor from NASA remarked the tech transfer has been modest. An example of tiny first steps was a miniaturized X-ray spectrometer. He remarked NASA is spending a small amount to leverage long-term benefits.

Altaf Carim from DOE referenced the a worshop on energy needs and reviewed the national lab infrastructure investment (see http://www.nano.gov/html/centers/DOEcenters.html).

While Stepp was controversial, the remainder of this panel was less so and either the committee was tired and cranky or else they were under-impressed as well because the questioning became much more pointed.

It's difficult to add more when the committee went into closed sessions and I was excluded. I did notice that the tenor of this meeting was more intense than the one I attended earlier this year. Also, some of the members seemed frustrated at Roco's explanations which were lengthy and sometimes not exactly on point. At points, it almost bordered on rudeness. However, it is difficult to underestimate how important Roco has been to the NNI and how many times he served as the bulwark against misunderstanding and misinformation, (just think of the number of times he had to explain that the NNI was not about nanobots) and he deserves to be treated respectfully, though not deferentially.

NANOHYPE AWARD for June 2005

While this report may have appeared in 2003. It recently came to my attention. I am vetting many of ETC's publications and this Communiqué will share the award with another on ETC's publications in July. Christopher Dickson a research assistant helped select this AWARD winner. For the second ETC AWARD winner See July 2005.

“Much ado about nothing? … Or the Sand Witch?” ETC Group Communiqué, September/October 2003, Issues 81.

There hasn’t been much research on the environmental consequences of the release of nanoproducts though there remains much speculation about the use of nanoproducts for soil stabilization and groundwater remediation.

There is little evidence that intentional release has occurred to date. However, the following instance does evidence the level of concern. While the ETC Group condemned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for selecting Sequoia Pacific Research Company’s patent-pending nano-engineered organic to treat soil erosion on First Nations’ land in New Mexico[i], a review of the actual event discredits their criticism. SoilSET™ was the product used on 1,400 acres of Taos Pueblo land. According to the company’s flyer[ii], “SoilSET™ contains no manufactured nano-particles, silicates or powders…. SoilSET™ initiates a chemical reaction that binds the natural nano-level silicates in the ground to larger native particles forming an absorbing matrix (or web) that is permeable to water. Each time SoilSET™ is re-hydrated, this binding process is re-actuated”. According to Richard Maile, chemist and president of Sequoia Pacific Research, “SoilSET™ binds to ash and helps cut back on the hydrophobicity of water-repellent qualities of soil, which increases runoff and erosion because water can’t soak into the ground”.[iii] Even ETC’s Communiqué admitted “it is quite possible that the particles active in the company’s product are nothing more than some type of sand” and “if SoilSET™ is simply old chemistry dressed up to look like a new technology, the company needs to address its own lack of clarity: is it spin to sell or product or it is truly a new products using a new nanotechnology process”?[iv]

However, this hardly excuses the overdramatic reporting done in this instance by ETC. While their suggestion that best practices for laboratory research using nanotechnology is probably justified, their call for immediate governmental intrusion beyond that recommendation into the market might be premature. However, SoilSET™ represents “the first of five nano-based products, including radioactive waste disposal as well as synthetic solid fuels and building materials”.[v] While this paper does not address the use of nanotechnology in environmental remediation, there have been some significant claims to that effect. “The EPA is already funding 16 universities and 11 private companies to research nanoscale answers to pollution and waste.” Wolfe argues there is a strong case being made that atomic scale precision would mean less waste because many nanotechnologists considering their work green chemistry.[vi] As such, we can expect intentional releases of nanoproducts into the environment in the not so distant future.

[i] “Much ado about nothing? … Or the Sand Witch?” ETC Group Communiqué, September/October 2003, Issues 81.
[ii] Sequoia Pacific Research Company, SoilSET™: High Tech solutions for Soil Erosion control, Re-Vegetation and Dust Control, 888-465-8801.
[iii] Randkin, A, “Paste combats blaze damage,” Albuquerque Journal Electronic Edition, 14 August 2003, http://www.abqjournal.com/scitech/nano/72718north08-14-03.htm (accessed12 May 2005).
[iv] “Much ado about nothing? … Or the Sand Witch?” ETC Group Communiqué, September/October 2003, Issues 81. [v] Karoub, J. “Nanomaterial overcomes weather woes in bid to save scorched land,” Small Times, 21 August 2003, http://www.smalltimes.com/document_display.cfm?document+id=6540 (accessed 12 May 2005).
[vi] Wolfe, J., "Nanotech vs. environmentalists," Forbes, 16 September 2003, http://www.forbes.com/2003/09/16/cz_jw_0916soapbox.html (accessed 17 October 2003).

On Stem Cells and NANO - Opportunites or not???

BELOW IS A DRAFT OF A PORTION OF AN ARTICLE -

ANY INPUT WOULD BE HELPFUL - PLEASE DO NOT CITE.


...On the other hand, we have the convergence of nanotechnology and biotechnology and implications for the ongoing debate in American over stem cells and embryos. While this might appear a negative variable in the calculus to communicate nanoscience and nanotechnology to the public, it does not need to be so.

America has moved to the right. “One of the two main political developments in the past ten years has been the rise of the Christian Right and bitter partisanship-and the two are connected.” John Danforth made this observation and events including efforts by Congress to intervene to save the life of a brain-damaged woman from Florida and to end the filibuster on judicial appointments bear it out. There remains support on some level for a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and to require parental notification for minors seeking abortion, even in case of incestuous rape. What has happened? The Economist addressed two phenomena: the make-up of Protestant America and the realignment of religious America’s politics. Even though the Right’s position on stem-cell research is unpopular, the ban on federal government funding of new embryonic lines remains in force.

There have been a handful of articles examining relationships between nanoscience and nanotechnology and stem cell research. For example, the Fourth Asian-Harvard Joint International Symposium on Nanotechnology in Biology and Medicine on June 15 and 16, 2004, entertained “two of the most promising and controversial areas of research, nanotechnology and stem cells.” In addition, the two terms have begun to find themselves associated. According to neurologist John Kessler from Northwestern, “Nanotechnology might show people once and for all that you really can help regenerate organs with stem-cell biology and help people walk again, help people after heart attacks, help people after strokes.”

There has been some scientific research as well. At Johns Hopkins, they are trying to use magnetic nanoparticles to improve MRI to figure out exactly where to inject the stem cells. In terms of research specifically associated with producing stem cells, Sam Stupp at Northwestern is working with self-assembling three-dimensional biodegradable scaffolds of nanofibers and Douglas Kniss from Ohio State is developing nanofibrous scaffold for stem cells.

Much of America is wary of opening new embryonic lines of stem cells because that will require experimenting on embryos that are unused in IVF procedures. Setting aside the observation these cells are destroyed when unused, there has been a flurry of research in unique ways to get around the moral and ethical concerns. For example, Advance Cell Technology used single blastomeres to cultivate embryonic stem cells. The single cells once removed do not compromise the viability of the embryo. Harvard researchers are attempting to reprogram skin cell genes to return them to an embryonic state. Work at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago remove the DNA from a stem cell and fuse it with a human skin cell. We have yet to see whether any of these approaches will avoid the ire of the movement from the right.

Conflating nano and stem cell research might be problematic for many reasons not the least of which is the issue of "playing God." A recent British study noted some concern among participants about nanoscience “playing God.” In January of 2004, a report, Nanotechnology: Views of the General Public, was prepared for the Royal Science and Royal Academy of Engineering Nanotechnology Working Group by the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB). The report is composed of “two elements and qualitative strand, consisting of two evening workshops (mini-citizen juries), and a quantitative strand, for which questions were placed on BMRB’s face-to-face omnibus survey (with a representative sample of 1005 adults aged 15 or over in Great Britain) from January 8-14, 2004.” In general it reported “29% of respondents from both the workshops and the survey said they were aware of the term “nanotechnology” and “68 percent… of those who were able to give a definition … felt it would improve life …. Only 4 percent thought it would make things worse…. 13 percent of the workshop respondents said that nanotechnology would make things better or worse depended on how it was used.” There was a recurrent comment from participants in the workshops: "playing God" was a phrase that was used in a negative sense, and one which respondents spontaneously reach for to disparage certain technology developments. However, they often found it to be difficult to be more specific about their use of the phrase.” Such views are likely to be even more prevalent in America than Britain. While this complaint did not seem to find its legs when it comes to most biotechnology, it has had an impact on some stem cell research.

Nanotechnology makes biotechnology more efficient, it acts as an enabling technology with faster computers and smaller instruments. For example, family planning and birth control techniques will become less intrusive. Some nanotechnologists have begun to hype nanotech as a means for augmenting human intelligence, brain enhancements, and prolonging human life. These claims become warrants for the subsequent claim: they are “playing God.”

Unfortunately, some of the reportage on the linkage between nanotech and stem cell research hasn’t emphasized the distinction between embryonic and adult stem cell lines that might be advantaged from nanotechnology research. Failures to make such a distinction could impact the sense of bipartisanship that led to the overwhelming support of the National Nanotechnology Initiative and the 20th Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. For example, Dyer and Choi merely discuss nanotechnology research and stem cell research without addressing any distinction whatsoever.

Nonetheless, researchers at Stanford are using "arrays of nano-reservoirs on a chip to stimulate desired adult stem cell behavior.” Arrowhead Research Corp licensed the uncompleted nanotech stem cell device from Stanford which “controls the behavior of adult stem cells,” Arrowhead will be funding further research in exchange for the exclusive license and “believes nanotechnology is the key to unleashing the potential of stem cells.” At Israel’s Tel Aviv University researchers are attempting to develop a chip which will automatically sort adult stem cells out of blood marrow. They then would attempt to grow tissue outside of the body and then transplant it into the patient to reverse spinal cord damage, or repair damaged hearts. Dafna Menayahu claims “using the adult type helps us bypass the ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells.

Ignoring for a moment claims that adult stem cells may not yield adequate research findings; there is a unique opportunity to position nanotechnology as a tactic to manage our way through some difficult ethical questions. What if nanotechnology allowed us to avoid destroying human embryos in stem cell research by making adult cell lines more attractive to political wonks? This approach might allow us to step away from technological primitivism, promote a new and powerful technology, and advance our understanding of stem cells and their utility in curing human diseases.