Imagining Big Things in The World of Nano Particles
iZON is a New Zealand based nanotechnology company with a focus on detection, measurement and applied research in nano-particles and nanomedicine. They currently offer a broad range of measurement and detection products aimed at researchers in the field. They hope that by offering their products at a fraction of the price that other companies, and are much more versatile than other offerings, that the promises of nano-technology and nanomedicine will become a reality. With their two flag ship products qNano and qViro, iZON is leading the way into nano-medical research.
“It’s a great story,” says iZON CEO Hans van der Voorn, “right now we are focusing on how to sell our product to people who want to pay for it, this requires a lot of market research. This is quite radical for a nanotechnology company, because a lot of them want to become the next big thing and a million dollar enterprise, but they seem to forget that they have to sell something to somebody first. So our focus has become to sell measurement instruments to researchers.” When van der Voorn began working for iZON, he had so much faith in the success of the company he came out of retirement and sold his house and taking the assets and reinvesting them into the company. The impetus of the technology that iZON bases its product line came from one of the founders who saw that they could apply some of the same techniques they use for making kayaks to nanotechnology.
“The main application of our products is medical research; we provide the tools for that medical research,” says van der Voorn. “We provide a very accurate measurement tool to the people that are involved in nano-engineering. With these measurement tools they can optimise design and test their equipment in a much more efficient way.”
The biggest application that iZON has been applying its technology to is the emerging field of nanomedicine. Using beta vehicles in chemotherapy treatment, and the nanomedicine loaded into nano-particles, doctors could more selectively target cancers and tumours. “Chemo is basically a poison, and doctors are always trying to find the right balance so that the medicine will affect a tumour, but not kill a patient. One of the goals in nanomedicine is to deliver the chemotherapy drugs directly to the tumour. This would bypass having to put it into the rest of the body.” Van der Voorn says that this is all still in the research stage, but shows incredible promise, and that iZON is just the tool that researchers would need at this point.
“What they want to do is load up the drugs into nano-particles, and have those particles find their way to a tumour,” he says that with iZON researching these possibilities has made this closer to reality. “What they need at this point is very precise control and a very precise understanding about what those particle systems are, and what we offer is a measurement system that lets them do a whole range of measurements – before, during and after.”
Working with the University of Melbourne they have implemented there technology there with resounding success. “They create these very complex structures, they have a very small nanoparticle that they coat with layers of various proteins, and then they dissolve the particle out of the middle. This leaves them with this hollow basket, their goal is to put drugs inside this basket and have it pass through a cell wall into a tumour.” In this instance they couldn’t find an accurate way of measuring the amount of “baskets” they had created. This is where iZON was able to supply the much needed measurement tools. This process of counting the particles is almost instantaneous. The setup takes only a few minutes the part that takes time, but compared to the time it would take to do the same process with an electron microscope you are looking at a difference of almost 12 hours if not a day. The other problem is with a delay as long as 12 hours, the objects being observed change their position and their properties. With iZON’s technology you get an almost instantaneous snap shot of how many particles a researched would be dealing with.
iZON is not the only company in this space, and van der Voorn is quick to point out that they are the most advanced provider of this technological solution, their major competition is that of the established technology. The established technologies, he says, have not moved fast enough with the research. “What we have is a classic disruptive technology, we can do a lot of things that they simply cannot do. Finding the concentration of particles is just one example of something that they do not do nearly as well.”
Their products are incredibly compact and because of this, shipping costs and energy consumption is kept low. “Our power consumption of the devices is very light for the end user, almost trivial. In the production process each device represents a very small carbon footprint,” says van der Voorn, pointing to only some of the advantages. Each device is also 100 per cent recyclable when it reaches its end of life.
With a small price tag there comes some great opportunities for research and educational institutions. “First of all, any of our products will run on any new laptop, right off the self. We provide our own software, and if there are any updates to it we supply it for free forever.” Another of the advantages to the product because they are relatively inexpensive to say, an electron microscope, professors and researchers will not be hesitant in letting graduate or undergraduate students use the equipment.
By the middle of next year iZON has set the goal for itself to become the world’s #2 company that does nano-particle measurement. As van der Voorn says, the world’s number one company has been around for 30 years, and it is not realistic that they will overtake them in less than a year. Their marketing strategy over the duration of their operations has been focused on direct sales and partnerships. “98 per cent of our sales are done through direct sales, but we are looking at building networks and partnerships across the world.” says van der Voorn. Much of their marketing is done through submissions to scientific journals and the production of papers and reports. This is a slower process than most mainstream technology companies, but the peer review process that they must go through during submission adds credence and power to their brand. With units already at Harvard and Oxford, iZON is targeting its core audience with an exciting new product, one that will let them make breakthroughs with a smaller cash spend.