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R&D: Collaboration Gets More Creative

Dec. 16, 2019
Unconventional approaches can foster innovation


In early December, Eli Lilly & Co., Indianapolis, took the wraps off its first “shared innovation” laboratory. The Lilly Gateway Labs in South San Francisco, California, aims to bring together researchers from local biotech companies with Lilly specialists. The facility will provide direct access to Lilly’s scientific and functional expertise, says the firm. Moreover, companies working in the lab will have the opportunity to collaborate with Lilly on projects of mutual interest, participate in shared learning forums with Lilly experts and partners, and potentially even get investments from Lilly and venture funds, it adds.

The facility provides more than 65,000 ft2 of space and includes 32 state-of-the-art flexibly designed private lab modules, says Lilly. Each module contains lab space for six to eight researchers as well as an office area and work stations, notes the firm. In addition, the site boasts open areas for collaboration, including for hosting symposia.

A few days after the December announcement, the first team of outside researchers moved into the facility to join Lilly staff already there, says the company.

“Lilly is making this investment to help speed the discovery of medicines,” notes Dan Skovronsky, the company’s chief scientific officer and president of Lilly Research Laboratories. “This model will enable scientists to do what they do best, in an environment that fosters scientific breakthrough. We’re excited to see how it will impact our ability to deliver new solutions to patients.”

Lilly’s initiative takes a different and, perhaps, more-conventional approach to collaborative innovation than that pioneered by specialty chemicals maker Nouryon, Amsterdam. Nouryon (and, before that, its predecessor, AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals) has run a competition specifically aimed at startup firms (see “Imagine Chemistry: Two Startups Win Novel Contest”). The 2019 contest focused on particular technical areas important to the Dutch company. The two overall winners — Sironix Renewables for a plant-based detergent molecule, and Ionomr for environmentally friendly ion-exchange membranes and polymers for electrochemical systems — received joint development agreements. Six other finalists also garnered awards.

Of course, chemical makers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, refiners and other processors already appreciate the value and power of collaboration. Indeed, as I noted in another column, “Young Engineers Need Our Help,” multicompany-supported industry groups play crucial roles in improving a variety of technologies such as distillation and heat transfer, as well as design practices, operator performance and, most importantly, process safety.

Moreover, many successful proprietary products and processes stem from collaboration between specific companies. Usually, though, these developments build upon the well-understood individual strengths of each partner, rather than result from fortuitous synergy.

What initiatives like those of Lilly and Nouryon point up is the potential value of innovative approaches for spurring innovation. Other companies in our industry should get creative about collaboration.

MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can email him at  [email protected]

About the Author

Mark Rosenzweig | Former Editor-in-Chief

Mark Rosenzweig is Chemical Processing's former editor-in-chief. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' magazine Chemical Engineering Progress. Before that, he held a variety of roles, including European editor and managing editor, at Chemical Engineering. He has received a prestigious Neal award from American Business Media. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from The Cooper Union. His collection of typewriters now exceeds 100, and he has driven a 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk for more than 40 years.

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