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Shrinking Discovery

This article was originally published in Start Up

Executive Summary

The theory that smaller is better--as it is has been in the computer industry--is now driving enthusiasm for nanotechnology, a term that refers to the process of manipulating materials at atomic scale. New players are crowding under this hot rubric, including many working at not nearly so small a scale. Drug discovery methods are among the most compelling near-term nano-applications, but start-ups face challenges like those met by micro-scale pioneers Affymetrix and Caliper. Firms must show they can physically create systems they describe, and that teeny discovery methods actually matter for bench scientists. Business models in this emerging sector reflect the difficulties of harnessing novel science in ways that will satisfy drugmakers who've become extra-tough customers under pressure to deliver commercial results in a shifting, financially depressed market. Some start-ups are working on a fee-for-service basis, on specific projects that address customers' immediate needs. Others are deliberately doing development work on their own, gathering data to attract partnerships that may prove all the more rewarding because of their measured starts.

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