September 18, 2006

Nanotech Rx

Medical applications of Nano-scale technologies: What Impact on Marginalized communities?

Issue: Medical applications of nano-scale technologies have the potential to revolutionize healthcare by delivering powerful tools for diagnosing and treating disease at the molecular level. But the current zeal for nano-enabled medicines could divert scarce medical R&D funds away from essential health services and direct resources away from non-medical aspects of community health and wellbeing. Although nanomedicine is being touted as a solution to pressing health needs in the global South, it is being driven from the North and is designed primarily for wealthy markets. Using nano-scale technologies, the pharmaceutical industry’s ultimate goal is to make every person a patient and every patient a paying customer by “medicating” social ills with human performance enhancement (HyPE) drugs and devices. Nanoenabled HyPEs could usher in an era of two-tiered humans – Homo sapiens and Homo sapiens 2.0.

Market: As of mid-2006, 130 nanotech-based drugs and delivery systems and 125 devices or diagnostic tests are in preclinical, clinical or commercial
development. The combined market for nanoenabled medicine (drug delivery, therapeutics and diagnostics) will jump from just over $1 billion in 2005 to almost $10 billion in 2010 and the US National Science Foundation predicts
that nanotechnology will produce half of the pharmaceutical industry product line by 2015. Nanomedicine will help big pharma extend its exclusive monopoly patents on existing drug compounds and on older, under-performing drugs. Analysts suggest that nanotech-enabled medicine will increase profitability and discourage competition.

Impact: Nanomedicine may have its greatest impact in the realm of “human performance enhancement” (HyPE). Nanomedicine in combination with other new technologies will make it theoretically possible to alter the structure,
function and capabilities of human bodies and brains. In the near future, nano-enabled HyPE technologies will erase distinctions between “therapy” and “enhancement” and could change, quite literally, the definition of what it means to be healthy or human.


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