PhAST keeps sharp focus on applications

June 1, 2006
LONG BEACH, CA-True to form, the PhAST sessions at the 2006 CLEO/QELS conference offered a comprehensive overview of the state of the art in key application areas for lasers and optoelectronics.

LONG BEACH, CA-True to form, the PhAST sessions at the 2006 CLEO/QELS conference offered a comprehensive overview of the state of the art in key application areas for lasers and optoelectronics. Designed to give attendees concise previews of new application areas, access to industry innovators, and discussions of the engineering ideas behind new products, the 2006 PhAST conference focused on five topic areas: lasers in manufacturing, photonics in homeland and national security, biophotonics instrumentation, high-power super-efficient semiconductor lasers, nanophotonics and laser optical nanofabrication.

Both business/market opportunities and cutting-edge technologies and applications were emphasized during the PhAST sessions. At the Tuesday “Business and Management Insights Panel Discussion,” for example, John Dexheimer, a partner of First Analysis Private Equity and president of LightWave Advisors, discussed a number of emerging growth markets for photonics, from solar cells to sensors. He noted, for example, that the solar cell business-in which lasers and optics are used for fabrication and as the energy source-is “booming,” with at least 30 solar-cell public offerings in the last 10 months and an industry that is “way under capacity.”

Similarly, Dexheimer sees great opportunities for manufacturers of optical sensors, especially in homeland security such as port surveillance and border control. He noted that at present there is more than $1 billion in R&D funding coming from the defense sector into fiber-sensor development. In addition, he pointed out that a number of major industrial companies-including Goodrich, Halma, Siemens, Danaher, and Anritsu-are looking at optics as a key enabling technology and investing in the optics industry through acquisitions, which increases public market opportunities and brings in more capital.

In the sessions on biophotonics instrumentation, the focus was on imaging-from OCT and optical tomography to multispectral imaging and funding opportunities in cancer diagnostics at the National Institutes of Health. One of the highlights was David Benaron’s invited talk on photonics in the biomedical marketplace. With his background as an M.D., professor (Stanford University), and entrepreneur (he has founded four biotech companies, the most recent being Spectros), Benaron brings a unique and valuable perspective to the industry, and it showed in his talk.

He began by noting that at present the public market value in biomedical optics is greater than $6 billion, and probably closer to $10 billion to $15 billion. And the trend looks to continue, with money being spent by patients, customers, and investors alike. He said the biggest mistake in the medical arena is to let the technology, rather than the “need”, lead the way to market. This is especially important for entrepreneurs trying to attract the attention of larger medical-device companies.

“You need to be problem-oriented, specific, and tied to a high-value solution,” he said. “Most companies (in the medical industry) get the majority of their profit on a product in the first three years. Medical device products develop very slowly but become obsolete very quickly. Corporate partners expect scaleable and transferable manufacturing and IP, not R&D.”

Benaron also noted that devices for diagnostics are tougher to sell than devices for therapeutics. However, he also provided several examples of successful biomedical optics products, including pulse oximetry and ischemia (which is what Spectros is focused on). He also said that one trend bearing fruit for those in the medical-device field is to start with a lab-based product for diagnostics, which bypasses the FDA process, prove the value of that technology and process, and then expand it into prognosis and treatment.

“I expect biomedical optics to grow into a $20 billion industry in the next five years,” he concluded.

-Kathy Kincade

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