"Put simply, we help companies with prototyping and characterization," David Sarphie, CEO of Bio Nano Consulting, told nanotechweb.org at the launch event in London's City Hall. "We also make sure that the work runs on schedule, by taking care of project management."

Sarphie has over a decade's worth of senior management expertise in drug delivery, diagnostics and medical device companies. He first honed his skills at Powderject Pharmaceuticals, a spin-out of Oxford University, UK, which was focused on needle-free drug-delivery technologies. Most recently, Sarphie was CEO of Oxford MediStress, a start-up developing a novel blood test for stress.

Other key players at Bio Nano Consulting include Gabriel Aeppli, director of the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN). Aeppli's research is currently centred on the implications of nanotechnology for information processing and healthcare. Tony Cass, research director at Imperial College's Institute of Biomedical Engineering, also joins the team. Cass is using engineered proteins and peptides in micro and nanostructured materials and devices for both clinical and high-throughput analysis.

Another high-profile member of the group is Mike Horton from UCL's department of medicine and director of life sciences at LCN. Horton is part of a team developing integrated confocal atomic force microscopy for studying single molecule cell physiology. The technique is being used to examine the structure and chemistry of collagen at the nanoscale and could help drive applications early in the drug development pipeline.

Bio Nano Consulting benefits from £5 million in funding through the UK's Technology Strategy Board and the London Development agency. The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is also a partner and provides research expertise in biopharamaceuticals, biodiagnostics, nanotoxicology, sensors and medical devices.

Case studies

One of Bio Nano Consulting's early success stories is a nano-cantilever array system that allows different biomolecules to be detected at the same time. The device works by monitoring the bending of each cantilever, which occurs as target analytes bind to the specially coated cantilever surfaces. Highly sensitive, the set-up is able to detect the added mass of a single bacterium.

Bio Nano Consulting is using this technique to assist a US-based pharmaceutical company in understanding the mechanism of action of a novel antibiotic.

Other projects underway include the characterization of nanoparticles for use in drug delivery and diagnostics, as well as the development of an innovative magnetic probe for breast cancer staging and surgical applications.