Youthful nanotech company grows up — and starts to play with the big kids

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Oct. 20, 2003 – Quantum Dot Corp., founded in late 1998 to manufacture nanocrystals for biomedical uses, recently took up with a very big kid—Japanese electronics giant Matsushita, perhaps best known for its Panasonic brand.  The two companies will collaborate on developing tools for DNA detection and other diagnostic applications. 

Financial terms haven’t been disclosed, but the partnership’s first product debuted in September: a high throughput optical scanner targeted to the billion-dollar gene expression analysis market. 

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Quantum dots—nanoscale bits of semiconductor material–glow in distinctive colors depending on their size.  They have many potential uses, from lasers to solar cells.  QDC has elected to concentrate on biological detection, which president and COO Carol Lou calls a “sweet spot” among potential applications.  Using patented techniques under exclusive licenses from the University of California, MIT, and elsewhere, the company can coat crystals of cadmium selenide with antibodies, bits of DNA, or other substances that bind to specific molecules in an organ or cell, allowing researchers to track their activity. 

The dots can theoretically be created to glow at any wavelength of light, though QDC provides a basic palette of five colors for most of its applications. “Quantum dots are unique in that they can envision more than one thing happening at a time, which is critical for scientists to see how things are interacting, and how they’re transported in and out of the cell,” Lou says.  Fluorescent dyes, commonly used to tag biological molecules, can only track a few different activities at a time, and they tend to fade, while quantum dots hold their color.

QDC’s first product, the Qdot, has hundreds of customers among researchers and drug companies, and Lou expects that number to break four figures soon.  The company markets several standard conjugates – dots coated with specific organic molecules – and also works with users to customize the dots as needed. “We’ve had Qdots on the market for about a year, and now we’re seeing scientists publishing papers about them,” Lou says.  “That’s exciting.”

One of QDC’s collaborators, a team at Cornell University, has used the dots for in vivo imaging, making the circulatory system of a live mouse glow beneath its skin when viewed with near-infrared light.  The mouse survived the experiment.  This development could eventually produce a replacement for the dyes now used in diagnostic imaging, though plenty of research remains to be done.  “One issue the company will need to address is the toxicity and environmental impact of semiconducting particles,” says Mindy Rittner, a biotechnology analyst with Business Communications Co. 

The company’s newest product, the Qbead, is a tiny ball of polystyrene coated with quantum dots of various sizes.  The beads’ distinctive patterns allow researchers to “bar code” strands of DNA or small structures inside cells.  Qbeads will be used in the instruments developed with Matsushita.  

“The beads will allow us to track large numbers of data points—tens of thousands of different oligonucleotides [snippets of DNA] at once,” says Andy Watson, QDC’s vice president of business development.  He expects that the biggest immediate use will be in cancer tumor staging—identifying where, and to what degree, specific cancer cells have spread. 

Qdots are cheap to produce, Lou says, and are priced to reflect what the market will bear.  Enough for 100 tests costs $600.  The Qbead instrument will probably be priced at about $100,000, which she says is competitive with other instruments in the biodetection market.  She acknowledges that price adjustments in both areas may have to be made when the company starts to develop the clinical market, where downward pressure on healthcare costs makes purchasers cautious about adopting new technologies.

QDC should be able to ramp up production without too much trouble—it’s using only a small part of its 30,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Hayward, Calif., and has plenty of room for more chemical hoods at eight square feet each. 

The bigger challenge is finding chemists to populate those benches.  “It’s a relatively simple manufacturing process, but you need training in chemistry,” Lou says.   The company recruitment Web site advertises a running club, a weekly staff breakfast to discuss scientific developments and business strategies, and a first-class cappucino maker.


Company file: Quantum Dot Corp.
(last updated Oct. 20, 2003)

Quantum Dot Corp.

26118 Research Place
Hayward, CA 94545-3732

Founded in fall 1998, Quantum Dot develops nanocrystal-based DNA detection tools and diagnostic systems.

Biotechnology research and product manufacturing


Small tech-related products and services
Quantum Dot uses quantum dot crystals — cadmium selenide nanoparticles — to develop biological detection applications. The company released its initial Qdot product approximately one year ago, garnering an excellent response from the research and drug development community.

One result of Quantum Dot’s partnership with Matsushita has been the release of an optical scanner used for gene expression analysis. The scanner functions in tandem with Qbeads, polystyrene balls coated with quantum dots that permit “bar coding” of DNA strands and cellular structures.


  • Dr. Joel F. Martin: chairman of the board
  • Carol Lou: president and chief operating officer
  • Andy Watson: vice president of business development
  • Ken Barovsky: vice president of intellectual property

Investment history
Quantum Dot Corp. completed a $7 million funding round in early 1999, with participation from Abingworth Management Limited and Institutional Venture Partners.

A $30 million expansion funding round in early 2000 included these investors as well as new participants MPM Capital, Frazier & Company, Schroder Ventures Life Sciences, Technogen Associates and CMEA Ventures. 
$1 – $1.5 million

Selected strategic partners and customers

  • Matsushita

Selected competitors

Barriers to market
Questions have arisen regarding the potential toxicity and environmental impact of semiconductor particles; Quantum Dot will need to research and address these concerns as they grow their business.

The company will also need to monitor product pricing to ensure competitiveness when their sales expand to the clinical market.

Relevant patents
Method of detecting an analyte in a sample using semiconductor nanocrystals as a detectable label
Methods of using semiconductor nanocrystals in bead-based nucleic acid assays

Tel: 510-887-8775
Fax: 510-783-9729
Email: [email protected]

– Research by Gretchen McNeely


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