Innovation management and the emergence of the nanobiotechnology industry

July 14, 2014

Evolution of selected nanobiotechnology subsectors in the U.S. (credit: Elicia Maine et al./Nature Nanotechnology)

The confluence of nanotechnology and biotechnology is creating opportunities and an emerging industry, nanobiotechnology, with tremendous potential for economic and social value creation, according to an international research team at MIT, Simon Fraser University, and the University of New South Wales

The medical applications of nanobiotechnology are promising, including effectively targeted drug delivery — imagine highly efficacious cancer treatment with few side effects — and real time, minimally invasive diagnostics.  But there is little known about the emergence of this industry or of ways to reap the possible benefits.

A study recently published in Nature Nanotechnology examined the emergence and evolution of nanobiotechnology through tracking firms with capabilities in both biotechnology and nanotechnology.

More than 500 firms have entered the field worldwide since 1990, and it is expected to soon triple in size from $20 billion to over $60 billion in sales.  The team also studied two cases of breakthrough inventions — Doxil and Zevalin — both of which are effectively targeted cancer therapeutics (see

Innovation, and the growth of new industries, is thought to be more likely when a firm occupies the confluence or convergence of distinct streams of emerging technology. Research progress at the intersection of fields is probably more likely to occur when cross-disciplinary new product development teams are designed by the organization and when routines and processes are designed to support cross-disciplinary learning.  A confluence of technologies is characterized both by the bringing together of formerly disparate fields of knowledge, and by the creation of new product markets.  When a confluence of technology streams occurs, rich opportunities for experiment and progress may result, suggests Professor James Utterback of MIT.

Strategies that one might suggest as particularly useful for enabling innovation would include importing ideas from broad networks and diverse sources, hiring persons from diverse backgrounds, and creating an environment conducive to deep collaboration.  This would include co-location of diverse groups, creating a culture and which encourages vigorous debate and differences in perspective.

Prof Elicia Maine, academic director of SFU’s Management of Technology MBA, describes the paper her international research team has published in Nature Nanotechnology. This paper examines the emergence and evolution of the global nanobiotechnology industry, using firm entry and exit as the unit of analysis.

Simon Fraser University Professor in Technology Management & Strategy at SFU’s Beedie School of Business describes her research. Dr. Maine describes her work studying patent filings over about six years to discover trends in the convergence of biotech and nanotech firms.

Abstract of Nature Nanotechnology paper

The confluence of nanotechnology and biotechnology provides significant commercial opportunities. By identifying, classifying and tracking firms with capabilities in both biotechnology and nanotechnology over time, we analyse the emergence and evolution of the global nanobiotechnology industry.

Abstract of Journal of Engineering and Technology Management paper

We investigate how the confluence of technologies can lead to radical innovation, thus creating opportunities at the firm and industry levels. To do so, we conduct a detailed examination of the development of the transistor and of two nanobiotechnology drugs – Doxil® and Zevalin® – from an innovation management perspective. We argue that three innovation management strategies are central to the development of radical innovation from the confluence of technologies, namely: importing ideas from broad networks, creating environments which allow for deep collaboration, and technology-market matching.