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July 31, 2007

From tiny devices, mighty profits grow

Courtesy of Roy Doumani

A financier by trade, Doumani is an unlikely nanotech evangelist.

By Holly Hubbard Preston
Friday, July 20, 2007

LOS ANGELES: Nanotechnology is not where Roy Doumani made his fortune, but it could be where he leaves his most important mark.

With the zeal of a modern-day Medici, Doumani, the 71-year-old international financier and real estate investor, is focusing his energy and resources to bolster an area of innovation that may finally be on the brink of widespread commercialization.

"I see tremendous potential in nanotechnology," Doumani said from his 6,500-square-foot, or 604-square-meter, seaside home in Los Angeles, designed for him and his wife, Carol, by the sculptor Robert Graham. "And if I believe in something, I won't let it go."

Nanotechnology is the science of materials and devices of the scale of atoms and molecules. As a field of study, it has been around as long as scientists have been isolating atoms. While science fiction writers and venture capitalists have long touted its future influence over everything from warfare to cancer treatment, nanotechnology has been slow to attract capital from the public or private markets.

Investors' generally lackluster response is understandable, Doumani said. As he pointed out, most companies dealing with nanotechnology are still in the process of defining their market offerings, making it difficult for investors to gauge their potential returns.

"To coin the saying 'we don't make the products, we make them better' provides a good idea of where nanotechnology is today," Doumani said.

"There's no hurry to invest," he added. "This is not a case where the train is pulling away from the station - it hasn't pulled in."

In 2002, Doumani helped establish the California NanoSystems Institute, a research center based at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose chief purpose is to foster nano-based innovations with viable commercial applications.

Doumani, who sits on the institute's advisory and oversight board, also engineered the center's joint venture with Zheiijang University in Hangzhou, China. The resultant entity, known as the Zheijang California NanoSystems Institute, is the first Chinese-American institute specializing in the development of nanometer-related technology. He has helped negotiate nano-based patent agreements and business contracts for scientists, and has pitched government officials across the globe on funding research projects.

Doumani's efforts are not in vain: As of last month, 500 nano-based products were available in markets around the world - nearly double the number a year earlier, according to the Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. Inventories monitored by the institute include everything from sunscreen and condoms to car wax and laptop computers using carbon nanotubes.

To acclaimed nano chemists like James Heath, having a savvy businessman like Doumani in nanotechnology's camp is an important development in moving the science into the mainstream.

"Often scientists and business people end up a bit at odds with each other since we come from different worlds and speak different languages," said Heath, who in addition to being a founder of the California NanoSystems Institute is a senior professor at both CalTech and at UCLA. "Roy really goes to the trouble to learn from us scientists and to teach us his thinking."

Doumani, an adjunct professor in molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, his alma mater, offers a course called the Business of Science, which teaches scientists about patents and start-up business processes. Heath says it "is probably the most popular class in the medical school."

An artist at heart, lawyer by degree and financier by trade, Doumani seems an unlikely nano-evangelist: His day job includes managing investments in both local and international real estate, including, a 5,000-home residential development in New Jersey with sales in excess of $1.5 billion. He is also involved with a handful of start-ups, primarily in high-tech industries. On top of that, he is vice chairman and shareholder in Xiamen International Bank, China's first major joint venture bank. The Chinese bank is one of half a dozen financial institutions Doumani has helped start.

While Doumani lends his support to all types of nanotechnology, it is in the area of cancer research that he seems most passionate. Diagnosed 15 years ago with prostate cancer, Doumani knows only too well the world of cancer drug treatments. He is convinced that less debilitating forms of treatment, involving nanotechnology, will be available in the near future.

Heath confirmed as much.

"There are nanotechnologies for the delivery of cancer chemotherapies that are either in late Phase 2 or early Phase 3 trials," he said, referring to research studies that evaluate new drugs and medical devices before their submission for government approval. Heath said nanotechnology can deliver drugs to their targets much more effectively than traditional methods, thus allowing doses to be reduced 10- to 20-fold, reducing the toxicity to almost zero, and yielding the same patient benefit.

Doumani, a man who used poker proceeds to help finance his schooling and who chose an artist over an architect to design his home, rates nanotechnology as one of the lower risk enterprises he has ever embarked upon.

"What used to be called science fiction," he said, "is now science fact."

Editor’s Note: For additional information contact Pam Hunter- 707-258-1699 x 15 or admin@studio-707.com

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