Nanotechnology usually makes investors’ eyes glaze over.
It’s one of those abstract, overhyped concepts that you’ve heard about but can’t really generate enough understanding to effectuate any enthusiasm.
I get it.
But this field of science is as revolutionary as chemistry was during the 20th century. You know, antibiotics, biotech, preservatives, plastics, super materials, electronics — that kind of boring stuff.
For example, here’s news in Azonano.com of a Colorado-based biotech firm that is getting solid results killing cancerous tumors:
Actium BioSystems disclosed today that its novel system platform, ACT, for selectively delivering controlled hyperthermia as an adjuvant to chemotherapy, has been validated via in vivo studies by two independent authorities, including Duke University Medical Center and a contract research facility.
Actium is now preparing for safety and pharmacokinetic studies to support an application to the FDA for permission to commence First-In-Human clinical studies as soon as possible.
The in vivo studies successfully demonstrated that Actium technology is able to selectively achieve therapeutic temperatures in the bladder using an intravesical (in the bladder) nanoparticle-mediated hyperthermia approach. It has been known for many years that heat weakens and kills cancer. But heat also affects normal, healthy tissue the same as cancer cells—except that low-temperature heat, from the normal body temperature of 37°C (98.6°F) to less than about 42°C, has little effect on healthy tissue, but can weaken and kill cancer cells. This is the basic concept of treating cancer with low-temperature heat, called hyperthermia.
And thanks to new techniques to see on such a tiny scale, stories like this one in NewScientist are becoming practically commonplace:
Delftia acidovorans lives in sticky biofilms that form on top of gold deposits, but exposure to dissolved gold ions can kill it. That’s because although metallic gold is unreactive, the ions are toxic.
To protect itself, the bacterium has evolved a chemical that detoxifies gold ions by turning them into harmless gold nanoparticles. These accumulate safely outside the bacterial cells.
“This could have potential for gold extraction,” says Nathan Magarvey of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who led the team that uncovered the bugs’ protective trick. “You could use the bug, or the molecules they secrete.”
And then there’s this story that appeared on SigularityHub.com, a site that provides news about humans’ growing union with artificial intelligence and technology. Two reputable, publicly traded companies are working on printing human tissue and organs:
3D printing technology is hot and getting hotter. Whereas once 3D printers were limited to a few select materials, these days inputs include metal, plastic, glass, wood, and—human cells? Bet you didn’t see that coming. (Actually, if you’re a regular here, you probably did.) Bioprinting firm, Organovo, isn’t anywhere near 3D printing a hand or heart. But a recently announced partnership with 3D modeling software giant Autodesk (maker of AutoCAD) might speed things up a bit.
We first encountered Organovo in 2009. The firm introduced the NovoGen bioprinter in 2010—the first of its kind—and has since built ten more. At a cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and as yet only rudimentary capability, bioprinting technology is firmly in the developmental stages.
But its potential is great. Organovo’s machines print human tissue just like ordinary 3D printers—additive construction guided by 3D computer models—but instead of inert materials they deposit living cells amid a simultaneously printed gel scaffold.
Already bioprinters are capable of printing small parts, like arteries or knee cartilage. And in the near term, the most likely use is in drug testing—an $11 billion market in itself.
But eventually (years from now) researchers hope to print, not just the piston, but the entire engine—a new heart or lung—customized and made entirely from a patient’s own tissue, limiting the probability of rejection by the body and doing away with long and uncertain waiting periods for donors.
But it isn’t coming. It’s here now.
These stories all have one thing in common: None of the advancements would be possible if researchers did not have access to equipment and technology that would allow them to observe, measure and build and manipulate objects on a molecular scale.
In short, none would be possible without nanotechnologies.
These kinds of science fiction stories are becoming less and less outrageous. The discovery of penicillin was a stunning achievement; yet, over the years, antibiotics were commonplace. It’s the same kind of thing. Growing and printing tissue sounds outrageous; but 40 years from now, few people will even blink at the concept.
Where To Look
Your best strategy is the venture capital approach: take small positions in various companies and hope for a few winners that dwarf the losers.
The other, complementary strategy is to buy shovel sellers, not gold miners. Buy the ones that sell the new products and equipment that all the new tech players will need to exploit the new wave of advancements.
With that in mind, here are a handful of interesting plays now in various spaces where nanotechnologies are kicking out some compelling products.
CVD Equipment Corporation (CVV) is a small, specialized chemical vapor deposition (CVD) company with a division that specializes in building nanotech CVD equipment for research labs in the academic and corporate sectors. It also provides the expertise and training elements for the equipment, or will contract out for research and development. Its business continues to grow despite the harsh economic times.
Of all the microscopy companies to choose from, I’ve always been partial to FEI Company (FEIC). You can’t do anything at the nano level unless you can see it. And FEI builds the equipment that allows researchers to see what’s going on. It’s one of the shovel sellers.
Starpharma Holdings Limited (SPHRY) is one of the gems of Australia’s high tech community. This company is a major player in the dendrimer space with some major products in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Phase II and Phase III trials. It also has great exposure in Asian markets.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (INO) is a vaccine maker that has bumped up a notch synthetic DNA-based vaccines. It has a very promising stable of vaccines in trials, including a universal influenza vaccine, one for Hepatitis C, another for cervical cancer, etc. It just got a nice write-up in Nature Biotechnology.
On the 3D-printing side, Autodesk Inc. (ADSK), Organovo Holdings Inc. (ONVO)and 3D Systems Corp. (DDD) are worth watching. I like the latter the best, but this sector has had quite a run; it’s become the poster child for nanotech. Be patient and wait for a pullback.
— GS Early