A number of commentators during the past few years have speculated that nanotechnology is the wave of the future in biotech
and pharma. Predictions such as "The market could steeply rise after 2012, reaching potentially $220 billion by 2015 for these
nanoenabled compounds"1 cause companies and their investors to take notice. There is, however, a large disparity between these predictions and the
actions of the very companies that are in a position to make them a reality. For example, a Lux Research survey concluded
that the pharma industry spends less than 0.5% of its research budget on nanotechnology and that only a sixth of companies
had any nanotechnology strategy in place.2
Nanotech appears to be following the classic technology adoption curves shown in Figure 1. This shows the bellshaped Rogers Adoption Curve3 for any technology, overlaid by the Gartner Hype Cycle,4 which demonstrates technology acceptance. A new technology creates initial excitement that hypes its promise to be the next
silver bullet. Usually, the hype is caused through a lack of understanding of the technology and its applications, which leaves
the imagination to run wild and results in overstatement of the technology's promise. This is then followed by disillusionment
when the reality does not match the hype. Finally, full adoption is achieved as the technology proves itself in the market.
Table 1: Approved nano-enabled therapeutics.
The estimates of the nano market (above) are likely to be part of the early 'hype' peak. We are now in the following trough,
where expectations are low and there is a significant gap between early adopters and the early majority.
Figure 1: Gartner Hype Cycle (blue)/Rogers Technology Adoption Curve (red).
Current nano-enabled drugs
There are a number of early adopters of nanotechnology in the pharmaceutical industry. Table 1 shows the available nanotech formulations along with examples of approved drugs. Relative to the number of nonnano products
on the market, the full list of approved nanoenabled drugs is very small and those that have made it to the market are effectively
reformulations of existing generic drugs. These rarely allow significant returns on investment because of the low cost of
the generic comparator drug used by health technology appraisal bodies such as The National Institute for Health and Clinical
Excellence (NICE). Unless the reformulation drastically reduces toxicity or doseage (and, therefore, cost), the increased
cost in comparison to the relatively minor change in quality adjusted life year (QALY) would make jumping the 'fourth hurdle'
hard to achieve.