Much contemporary nanotoxicology, nanotherapeutic and nanoregulatory research has been characterized by a focus on investigating how delivery of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) to cells is dictated primarily by components of the ENP surface. An alternative model, some implications of which are discussed here, begins with fundamental physicochemical research into the interaction of a dynamic nanoparticle–protein corona (NPC) with biological systems. The proposed new model also requires, however, that any such fresh NPC physicochemical research approach should involve integration and targeted collaboration from the earliest stages with nanotoxicology, nanotherapeutics and nanoregulatory expertise. The justification for this integrated approach, we argue, relates not just to efficiency and promotion of innovation but to an acknowledgement that public-funded basic physicochemical research in particular should now be accepted to incorporate strong higher order public-goods elements from its inception, not merely after product development at the technology-transfer stage. Issues, such as university-research cooperation, commercialization and intellectual property protection, safety and cost–effectiveness regulatory assessment, as well as technology transfer should not be viewed as second tier considerations, even in a ‘blue sky’ NPC basic research agenda.