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Trilogy Tidings
December 2014
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in this issue
Google's Nanoparticle In Vivo Diagnostics Boondoggle
A Potential Disruption in Medical Imaging?
Assessing New Technologies
What does Trilogy do?
Resources from our Archives
     Assessing new technologies is tricky business. I try my hand at two recently announced developments ... 

Regards,
Joe

Google's Nanoparticle In Vivo Diagnostics Boondoggle       
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     In late October Google announced an internal R&D activity aimed at developing  clinical diagnostics based upon labeled, magnetic, intravascular nanoparticles. Immediate reactions by the trade press varied from (mostly) skepticism to amazement, bewilderment and hope. If you have not seen the Google announcement or the deluge of reactive articles, they are all easily found on the Web.


Google Nano  

     Count me among the skeptics. The technical and regulatory hurdles are well known by relevant scientific experts. In addition to those matters, I strongly question Google's wisdom in heading down this path. Let me explain.

 

     There are two main approaches to product-focused R&D. (I'm not talking about exploratory or basic research; that's a different animal.) The first, and in my view the preferable, approach is to combine an intimate pre-existing knowledge of identified target markets and customers with purpose-built teams of internal and external technology innovators. The second approach is to aim for not-very-focused home runs by exploiting the knowledge and experiences of teams of skilled scientists and engineers over the long term in the hope of achieving real breakthroughs in technology that might yield a big economic return in some broadly defined (or undefined) market(s). This latter approach is the one often associated with "corporate R&D" formerly carried out by firms like Bell Laboratories, Sarnoff, Xerox and Corning, where I worked in the corporate R&D division.

 

     Google seems to be following neither approach. They have started with a very speculative product concept and staffed an ad hoc technical team to work in that direction. Google seems to have understood neither the clinical application nor the market nor the technologies that would have to be mastered before a product could be commercialized. I think they are engaged in a fool's errand. I think they are doing it because it generates headlines that advertise Google's innovative nature and because they can afford to quickly build a technical team.

 

     Don't get me wrong. I believe their concept could be a significant advance in clinical diagnostics. But I also believe it will quietly fail.
 
A Potential Disruption in Medical Imaging?        
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     Very much unlike the Google initiative, we have quite the opposite at the Butterfly Network, which is working on a combination of ultra-low-cost medical imaging and AI-based clinical diagnostics in the Cloud. The key to that initiative, headed by experienced entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg, is micromachined ultrasound chips that will purportedly enable hand-held ultrasound scanners "as cheap as a stethoscope."

 

     I have some questions about the skills required to interpret those ultrasound images, but the technology appears to offer real upset potential in medical imaging within a few years. Real-time uploads to the Cloud also promise learned diagnostic interpretations of the images.

 

     So how is this different from the Google boondoggle? Let me count the ways:

  • Rothberg is an experienced, successful entrepreneur with knowledge of biology and semiconductor technology.
  • The established Butterfly team knows a great deal about the clinical applications of ultrasound and its associated markets.
  • The team knows that a chip-based ultrasound device is the key to success, and they have already built prototypes.
  • Rothberg has already raised $100 million to stimulate the innovation.

     Are all the grandiose claims likely to be fulfilled? Not likely. Will a new approach to real-time medical imaging emerge? Probably so. Will that new approach disrupt medical diagnostics? We'll see.


 

Assessing New Technologies       
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     You may agree with my assessments of these two situations or not. But you are likely to agree that assessing the worth of new technologies is tricky business. However, if you run a company or you're an investor, an acquirer, a potential business partner or a potential technology licensee, you cannot avoid the task, as challenging as it may be.

 

     You may find that some of my hints will help you along the way. At least they will suggest some important questions that need to be answered 

 

What does Trilogy do? 
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     Trilogy Associates facilitates business growth and renewal through commercialization of new products, providing the following services:
  • Opportunity assessment
  • Business planning and enterprise growth strategies
  • New-product conceptualization, commercialization and marketing
  • Market research and competitive assessment
  • Business development and partnering
  • Market and technological due diligence
  • Assessment of the therapeutic and diagnostic potential of novel technologies
  • Design of efficient and effective development strategies for early-stage biomedical products
  • Business and technical writing/publishing

     Inquiries to establish whether and how we might support your business initiatives are always welcome.  Contact us.

Resources from our Archives 
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     Check out our Reading Room to view my published articles, presentations and white papers on a variety of topics.
  
     And, you can examine an archive of my prior newsletters (since February 2007).
Contact Information
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Joseph J. Kalinowski, Principal
919.533.6285
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