The essence of innovation

Published: 18-Jul-2011

Shortlisted entries in the 2011 CPhI Innovation Awards are expected to show clear commercial applications in fields as diverse as sustainable chemistry, process optimisation, biotechnology and anticounterfeiting technologies and supply chain security, all of which have featured among the winners in the past

Dr Sarah Houlton talks to Hendrick Baumann, chairman of the judging panel for the CPhI Innovation Awards about what the judges will be looking out for in this year’s entries

Why are the CPhI awards important?

CPhI is a huge exhibition with events spanning all over the world that cover the whole community of chemical and pharmaceutical companies. This gives an excellent platform for companies to show their innovative products and services to a wide spectrum of the industry. It is particularly good for small companies, as they can use the awards as a platform to introduce their innovations to a very broad audience of people, and not just the common targets in r&d.

What are the judges looking for in the entries?

First of all, the entry form asks for a 100-word summary of the product. I think this is very important, as it shows us whether the company is able to explain its innovation concisely, and in a way that is understandable by a wide range of people. It is essential not to overwhelm with scientific information at the beginning – it has to be attractive to commercial people as well as those with a technical background. We use this as the basis for our decisions about whether or not an entry should be shortlisted. Only then do we look at the back-up material the company is also allowed to provide. This can include further background to the innovation, and technical information. Also – and this is very important – not only should the innovation be something truly new, it should also be applicable to an industrial setting. It needs to generate interest in the industry, have a commercial horizon, and there should also be a clear strategy about what customers and markets the company is targeting.

What makes the winners stand out?

It’s usually something special that catches the imagination of the jury. There are five of us at the moment, with a relatively broad matrix of expertise – chemists, biochemists and engineers.

What makes real innovation?

It does have to be something that really is new. We double-check everything supplied by the entrants, and check the literature and patent applications to see if there is anything comparable already in the market. Some entries are more about incremental improvements to something that already exists and that is not really what we are looking for. While there is innovation involved in a process improvement for a standard chemical manufacturing route, we believe that in this context innovation means something that really demonstrates some form of new technology or idea.

How have the winners over the years reflected industry trends?

In the past few years, I have seen a lot of innovation in formulation and drug delivery, and this has been reflected in the number of entries from these areas, as well as those we have selected as winners. Another topic that we see increasing at the moment is process optimisation using biotechnology platforms. This mirrors the wider pharmaceutical business where biologic molecules have been becoming more important in the market, and again this has been well reflected in the entries for the awards.

Which entries from the past really stood out in your mind because of the level of innovation?

One that comes to mind that was very interesting was a Methyl-THF solvent in 2006. This methyltetrahydrofuran solvent was at the forefront of the trend for green chemistry, as it can be produced from plants, which is more sustainable than production from a petrochemical source. As well as the green aspects, it was selected because the critical peroxide generation during storage and usage is more or less zero, so it is also safer.

In 2007, there was the Codexis enzyme panel for rapid biocatalysis process development. This really sticks in my mind as there was incredibly good feedback from the industry, and the company’s r&d in this area is continuing and expanding to this day.

Then, in 2009, there was the entry from BASF – which, of course, is a much bigger company! It had developed an innovative system for tablet coating and coloration that allows tablets to be coated with unique colours that gives them anticounterfeiting properties and makes it easier to spot fakes.

And finally, last year’s winner from ThermoFisher Scientific is a portable NIR spectrometer that gives immediate results. During the session it showed the device, which I think was the first time we ever had a practical demonstration! It allows big warehouses to check if the right substance is within their drums, and helps exclude counterfeiting.

Which of the winners do you believe have had the most commercial impact since they’ve won?

Well, my impression as a chemist is that the Methyl-THF solvent has definitely increased its commercial applications. But the Codexis library has also had a good impact, and I have no doubt that ThermoFisher has done excellent business, and many companies are using the device in their warehouses to check incoming goods.

Why would you encourage companies to enter the awards?

First, and most importantly, there is a very large audience. In the past few years, more than 20,000 people have been to CPhI in Europe over the three days. It gives the award winners broad visibility, and this is, I believe, particularly important for small start-up companies. In addition, it is a very good platform for marketing new ideas to your target audience – the people there really are the key group of people in the industry who will be your future customers.

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