Looking Beyond The Horizon

Innovative Technologies & Services

Archive for the ‘biotech’ Category

Wireless endoscopy versus Pillcam – how competing medical innovations demand different business models?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 27, 2008

Here, I would like to talk about two medical diagnosis innovations (worth mentioning) and how the two competing methods would demand different considerations for successful commercialization of one over the other.

First comes the Pillcam. This device had been developed more than 7 years back and had received FDA approval. Currently, Pillcam is a market status quo and delivers a distinctively amazing method of imaging our GI tract in a non-invasive manner. When I first read it a year back, I was enthralled by the opportunity of getting one’s endoscopy done without going to the doctor and staying in the clinic for several hours, sedated, and undergoing a complex procedure of camera insertion. The PillCam SB video capsule measures 11 mm x 26 mm and weighs less than 4 grams. It contains an imaging device and light-source on one-side and transmits images at a rate of 2 images per second generating more than 50,000 pictures over an 8-hour period. It works simple too. You just fast overnight, reach the doctor’s office in the morning, swallow the capsule and put a recording belt on the waist, come back after the workday and deposit the recording device with all the images. The pill goes out naturally with a bowel movement later. For more detail, read[here].

Now, recently, Eric Seibel, a University of Washington research associate professor of mechanical engineering along with other researchers, has developed a scanning endoscope that consists of just a single optical fiber for illumination and six fibers for collecting light, all encased in a pill. The traditional endoscopes have a long wire 9 mm wide with a camera and requires sedation for the width of the wire. The new design from UW has a camera in a small capsule (smaller than the size of a vitamin tablet) tethered by a 1.4 mm wire (not a cable but more like a very thin string) that is very easy to swallow and doesn’t produce any discomfort that requires sedation. Now, that is definitely a market winner over conventional endoscopy. uw_camera_capsule.jpg

But how about competing with Pillcam? Well, this capsule is half the size of Pillcam and can be made smaller. Besides, the UW device takes 15 color pictures per second. The resolution is better than 100 microns, or more than 500 lines per inch. One advantage it has over the Pillcam is that being tethered, it is not just a fly-by view of the GI tract. The physician can move the small pill back and forth by using the thin tether – that allows more critical imaging of any specific location. Read more [here].

So what are the competing options? –

  • While one is a fly-by capsule with no tether, the other has a negligibly thin wire but allows more control over diagnosis. The consideration will be what degree of even minute irritation that tether might have on a huge sample of patients and how enhanced is the diagnosis?
  • One requires the capsule to be in the system for more than 8 hours (still reasonable since it doesn’t feel anything) with a device belt around the stomach all day. The other requires a small visit and one clinician to get the imaging done swiftly. In fact, UW inventor demands that it is as simple as getting it done in shopping mall. So there is opportunity of kiosk based diagnosis.
  • UW has a better image resolution than Pillcam. However, if Pillcam can innovate fast and implement a camera with 30-40 images per second, then it can stay as the market leader and create a higher barrier of entry.
  • One interesting aspect is to realize how large customer base Pillcam has. Awareness and marketing are the key features. On one hand, UW device can be delivered using the conventional clinic/diagnose center infrastructure along with kiosk based delivery model in the near future. On the other hand, Pillcam has the benefit of total remote testing. However, you still have to enter the clinic, swallow the pill, and put the belt on. So you still have to make the visit and wait in a line, etc. However, if Pillcam can come up with a micro-recorder (cheap to package it with the pill in a packet over the counter) then they win the game. The micro recorder could be flash memory based (cheaply available). The key element will be how images will be recorded by a small area of recorder location (if slapped on the skin like a Nicoderm patch).

This is a very interesting time as innovations are measured in terms of available infrastructure, market penetration, awareness, affordability and ease of use, and market barrier imposed by totally unique service offering over it’s competition.

Picture: Image taken by UW camera. Credit – University of Washington.

Advertisements

Posted in biotech, diagnosis, drugs, medical device | 6 Comments »

Biochips to test toxicity of new drugs outside animal body

Posted by evolvingwheel on December 29, 2007

So a big pharma creates a drug molecule with the potential of becoming a blockbuster. $4 billion dollars have been spent in R&D and the drug-discovery life-cycle . The drug is now up for clinical trials and gets canned because of toxicity reported in animal and human treatments. The company tries to dilute the risk by spreading the failed investment into other drug development and profit margins. Future blockbuster drugs costs astronomically high!

Now consider that a new method of testing has been found that tests the toxicity of a drug-in-process way early in the discovery cycle. Guess how much investment can be saved by deflecting the risk of a flop show towards the end of the process. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., the University of California, Berkeley, and Solidus Biosciences, Inc. have developed a biochip technology that claims to reveal the potential toxicity of chemicals and drug candidates during early experiments. Read the article [here]. toxicity_on_a_chip.jpg

As in earlier cases, I am not going to talk about the technology behind it. You can read that in the article itself. I will rather try to analyze briefly the ecosystem dynamic around this innovation and what could be the potential lines of developments/creations in the industry.

  1. First thing, if this practice catches up, how will the clinical testing industry adjust with the new toxicity test way early in the cycle? How will those business components rehabilitate?
  2. We test drugs on animals earlier for toxicity and use that as a predicate for reactions on humans. Now that is often challenged. However, will the new chips really curtail the testing on animals? EU has already banned several testing on animals considering them inhumane. This policy enactment will definitely drive business development around these chips and their commercialization. How will the market get saturated with this technology and how long will that take. Will thestart-up be able to survive as bigger giants get into the game? If this technology is patented (which it is), what other methods can other companies utilize to enter this market? If there is no other than this then the market barrier is quite high. In that case there could be licensing in the horizon!
  3. Custom drugs?? – “Ultimately, each person would have their own DataChip or MetaChip that contains their own genetic information,” Dordick says, noting that most drugs on the market today are “one size fits all.” —- Now that could be something over the coming years. If we have our genetic makeup embedded in such chips and drug companies start developing molecules customized to our code, will that change the dynamics of drug development significantly. Is custom drug through custom tests the next generation of development ahead? That’s where I will be interested. And guess what – one field that will be greatly leveraged is clinical informatics and bio- informatics.

Similar article of Interest:

Biomedical Engineers’ ‘Body-on-a-Chip’ Could Reduce Cost of Developing New Drugs

Posted in biotech, health, Innovation, Medicine, nanotechnology | Leave a Comment »

Saliva with biomarkers – non invasive technique for detecting diseases

Posted by evolvingwheel on December 7, 2007

I have been stumbling upon this concept on and off and finally decided to post it. I have come across two articles. One is a post on Popular Science website and the other a research paper from nearly 3 years back. The Pop Sc. article talks about the potential of detecting diseases from human saliva.

Earlier, saliva was ignored due to a very low number of analytes present in it. But with the new human saliva proteomic project and new biomarkers being discovered, spit is realistically being considered as a non-invasive point-of-care diagnostic platform. I am all for it. Just think how easy it would be – just spit and detect the marker. No need to even show up at the clinic. Mail the specimen if time allows. Stress capability of saliva to withstand temperature and pressure is better than blood. Read the Pop Sci article [here]. doctor_000.jpg

Now the paper from 2005. It is a research article co-athored by scientists from several institutions in CA. The paper talks about MEMS diagnostic chip using saliva. Gives an overview of mico-electro mechanical system / nano-electro mechanical system (MEMS/NEMS) sensors to oral fluids for diagnostic purposes. Please read the article [here]. As a proponent of cheap diagnostics that can be used for social innovation in underserved communities, I am highly interested in learning more about the potential of MEMS chips. I will cover more soon. 

Another good link: http://www.tastechip.com/saliva/saliva_diagnostics_research.html

Posted in biotech, blood, diagnosis, Innovation | Leave a Comment »

Want to have a glance of your future and past? – deCODEme will get you that for $985

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 19, 2007

Genomic decoding and assessment are about to be commercialized, and that’s too for a very affordable price. Well affordable for the kind of information the assessment might provide. Some people might just shout about the social/ethical implications of learning about your ancestral history and your likeliness of getting affected by any particular disease, but I am all excited about the prospect. An Icelandic company, deCODEme, is going to assess a person’s genome matrix for disease risk, physical attributes such as hair and eye colors, and ancestral trajectory – from where their ancestors came nearly 50,000 years back! And that’s all for $985 and a small tissue scrape from the inner cheeks over the mail. However, the efficacy of the test will depend upon the growing number of applicants. Larger the database, better will be the analysis. genome3.jpg

Why would the analysis depend upon the number of applicants? I am not going to repeat the information over here. The whole technology behind analyzing the genome rests on something called SNP chips. These chips can determine DNA at the sites of analysis on the genome track and capture information at the points of differences of the DNA. The whole thing boils down to the point where the chip can record the characteristics on the basis of these difference points. It is indeed complicated. May be I can do some more research on this. Meanwhile, you can check out more over [here].

Quoting from the article *** but because so little is known about the meaning of variation at each site on the genome, there was not much of interest he could say about himself. Companies like Decode hope that the more people have themselves genotyped, the better they will become at interpreting each DNA difference ***. I think this whole prospect is multi dimensional. Some of the areas that could see growth are:

  1. Bio-informatics and companies who are currently doing genotyping. The larger the volume of information, the bigger the sample space and the better is the analysis of DNA site differences between genome points of other individuals
  2. SNP chip manufacturers like Illumina of San Diego and Affymetrix of Santa Clara, CA
  3. Compoutational power – to deal with the complicated informatics processing
  4. Data security and encryption
  5. Ancestral trajectory analysis and reporting
  6. Disease informatics mapping tied up with with DNA differences at genome sites – may be a great information for clinical discoveries in pharmaceutical companies.

So I guess opportunities are boundless. Meanwhile, let me study a bit more about genotyping!! 🙂

Posted in biotech, genetics | Leave a Comment »

Nanotube radio – world’s smallest: Can it be tied up to MEMS?

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 12, 2007

I love technologyreview.com. Whenever I visit after a while, I always find something enthralling. Something that just pokes my mind and ends up creating a boundless array of imaginative possibilities. This time I came across the article on world’s smallest radio – a carbon nanotube that is able to receive radio-frequency and play the song sent over the carrier wave.

Innovative engineering feat resides in the simplest perspective. When a complicated scientific phenomenon, in this case a radio, is condensed in a nanoscale dimension, the magic is worth watching. Even if there is no immediate commercial prospect of the invention, the concept itself is path-breaking. One of the coolest aspect of the research is the way the radio receives the signal. In conventional radios the antenna receives the electromagnetic signal. Over here the radio starts responding when the frequency of the carrier wave matches the resonating frequency of the carbon nanotube. You can find the detail in the link [here]. nanoradio-timeline-sizes.jpg

I was also reading about the possible applications. One of them worth talking about is the packaging of this radio with MEMS (microelectromechanicalsensors). MEMSare supposed to be injected into the bloodstream and the sensors will record data – blood sugar level, cancer markers, blood pathogens, etc. Once this radio is configured to transmit data, a whole new world will open up (may be already in the process of opening up). MEMS will play an enormous role in preventive diagnostics and this tiny radio can remotely send information to a receiver outside the body. I have to do some more research in biological MEMS now!

Posted in biotech, blood, Communication, Innovation, micron, nanotechnology | Leave a Comment »

Thought provoking article on biotech-cancer-cost of life

Posted by evolvingwheel on October 11, 2007

I really enjoyed reading this article on MSNBC. An open and realistic discussion of the cost of cure for cancer and other terminating illnesses in the US. I am not going to repeat what’s in the post. You can find it [here]. The article talks about one patient who was diagnosed with breast cancer and tries to focus on several pertinent but critical human issues related to the subject. The very well presented story questions the monetary value of life. It’s about the cost of biotech drug therapy – the state-of-the-art medication that targets specific proteins and is capable of expanding the life expectancy of the affected. 800px-genentechheadquarters.jpg

The primary message is the cost of undergoing such elite drugs, and how it affects the patient, his/her family, savings, and lifestyle in general. Most of these drugs are outrageously costly – ranging from $55K to $100K per year of treatment. For an average middle-class individual with a decent salary, the recurring cost of such magnitude gets debilitating. Many loose their lifelong savings, house, and other dear belongings. The human side of the story is very emotional. On the other hand, the drug companies pursue years of research and billions of dollars to bring these revolutionary drugs to the market. Once commercialized, the companies try to salvage their investments several fold. A pressure from the stock market and shareholders moulds the path of profit-making. Some outcries the tremendous cost of ~$100K to maintain a drug regimen and supports the idea of government control over such drug prices – which is right away a damper to innovation and free market impetus. So how do you balance that?

I believe that in the coming years these questions need to be addressed sincerely. Not just from political and social perspectives but also from business platforms. How can these drug companies manage to continue their innovation, leverage their invaluable intellectual capital, benefit from the one-way (seller’s market) cost proposition, address the ethical and social questions, and meanwhile appease the investors to continue growth. Several challenging issues that need to be dealt by business community, political community, scientific community, and the general population.

Picture: Genentech Building

Posted in biotech, drugs, investment, Medicine | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »