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Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, Details the Next 350 Years of Innovation

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  • Friedhelm Felten, executive vice president and head surface solutions—performance materials, at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, cuts the company’s 350th anniversary cake during in-cosmetics Global.
  • Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has continued its focus on innovation. It boasts about 6,800 researchers dedicated to discovering health solutions and developing new technologies.
  • “As early as the 18th century, the professional qualifications for pharmacists were highly regulated," says Friedhelm Felten, executive vice president and head surface solutions—performance materials, at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.
  • As early as 1851, Emanuel Merck guaranteed the quality of his products.

As early as 1851, Emanuel Merck guaranteed the quality of his products. According to historical documents, Merck wrote to a customer: “I guarantee you consistent purity of my preparations” Emanuel Merck later established his own control lab, with which he also set quality standards. The company’s commitment to innovation and quality continues to this day and remains the focus for its future.

New Innovation Investments

Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, boasts about 6,800 researchers dedicated to discovering health solutions and developing new technologies. In fact, in 2017, the company invested €2.1 billion in R&D.

The company’s new Darmstadt-based Innovation Center will support further cross-functional collaboration. “Through our Innovation Center in Darmstadt and its innovative characteristics, we endeavor to develop internal innovation projects from the initial idea to sustainable new businesses beyond Merck KGaG, Darmstadt, Germany’s current scope,” says Friedhelm Felten, executive vice president and head surface solutions—performance materials, at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

“The opportunities, the advances in technology, the way we interact and work together—it’s not just about looking backwards, it’s about how our history gives us the tools to prepare for the future."

He adds, “We support employees from all over the world, so they can fully concentrate on their innovation project. Dedicated teams are exploring, developing and commercializing exciting new technologies. These future businesses are run like start-ups within our company—whether from our Innovation Center in Darmstadt, a hub in Silicon Valley, Shanghai or any other location where we have promising ideas. Additionally, we share our expertise with external science and technology start-ups through our global Accelerator Program.” 

Alfredo Garcia, Americas sales director, cosmetics, EMD (the US-Business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany) notes that the new innovation center system can provide critical success factors for small and large companies alike. The company is agile enough to work with small start-ups, but big enough to offer supply chain stability and other services.

Felten concludes, “Moreover, we are taking financial stakes in the most promising start-ups in health care, life science, performance materials and beyond. For this purpose, we doubled the volume of M Ventures, our venture capital fund for these types of investment, to €300 million.”

Future Innovations

Felten explains that Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, is “setting the course for battling cancer and other serious diseases more effectively.”

In addition, the company is focused on accelerating and improving the reliability of biotech production. It is also exploring emerging technologies such as liquid crystal antennas, which support autonomous driving, as well as OLED materials that can transform surfaces into displays with a swipe of the finger.

“We provide the key active component for flexible organic photovoltaics (OPV) for the cost-effective production of resource-conserving, flexible, printed solar panels that can be used on all kinds of surfaces,” says Felten. “Inspiring architects to design smart buildings with energizing facades, OPV has the potential to change modern city life. And this broad expertise, spanning health care, life science and performance materials also find their way into our cosmetics innovation approach.”

Preparing for the Future

“Even as we celebrate our rich history and tradition, it’s also exciting to imagine what the next 350 years will bring,” says Denise Petersen, director of market development, Americas, EMD. “The opportunities, the advances in technology, the way we interact and work together—it’s not just about looking backwards, it’s about how our history gives us the tools to prepare for the future. It’s an exciting time!”

Garcia concludes, “Our company is known for our commitment to quality with a strong sense of responsibility, we’re happy to bring that to our customers with our innovative technology and broad portfolio of cosmetic ingredients.”

A Scientific Legacy

“We have a strong heritage of taking responsibility for our employees, our partnerships, the environment and society,” says Felten. “As early as the 18th century, the professional qualifications for pharmacists were highly regulated. Pharmacists such as Johann Justus Merck had to demonstrate an honorable character, respectable behavior, and social responsibility. Historic certificates show that he relied on the most modern pharmaceutical literature of its time.”

Preparing for a Rapidly Changing World

In conversation, Karl-Christian Gallert, PhD, EMBA, Head of Commercial Cosmetics, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, noted that Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has an extensive pharmaceutical expertise that can support skin care breakthroughs by taking a scientific approach to R&D.

By applying a health care mindset and infrastructure to cosmetics, the company can expand its understanding beyond mere efficacy. For instance, the organization can develop better in vitro assays by using systems such as the CRISPR technology. This in turn can feed innovations into the market much faster than is currently possible.

Gallert explained that today’s beauty market is filled with dynamic brands with short development cycles ranging from three to 12 months. As a result, suppliers must move faster—without sacrificing safety and quality.

Meanwhile, Garcia explained that the end consumer is getting much more educated about ingredients and products and are therefore challenging brands to bring real innovation to market.

As a result, brands are looking at ingredients that provide both a marketing story to drive the first purchase and the efficacy or experience to bring them back again and again.

In addition, regulations and social responsibility demands are rising, which Garcia says puts Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, in a strong position. He added that consumers want to deal with brands and companies that have strong social and environmental responsibility.

First Person: A Legacy in Science

Friedhelm Felten, executive vice president and head surface solutions—performance materials, at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany:

In the 19th century, pharmaceutics developed from a manual craft into a science—and Emanuel Merck helped shape this development. In his pharmacy laboratory, he worked on alkaloids—natural substances produced from plants and highly effective for medicinal use. He succeeded in preparing multiple kinds of pure alkaloids, attracting the attention of the scientific community due to their medicinal efficacy.

As one of the pioneers of a research-driven industry in those days, groundbreaking R&D is still the basis for our work as a leading science and technology company. In our Healthcare business, our ambition is to develop breakthrough therapies for patients with cancer and chronic progressive diseases. With our developments in the Life Science sector, scientists can explore the link between a gene and its function. This will accelerate basic research and allow for a better understanding of the root causes of disease.

Finally, our Performance Materials solutions are virtually everywhere, be it the liquid crystals in the display of your smartphone, the effect pigments in cosmetics or the material that the semiconductor in your computer is made of. We are researching the next generation of materials for lighting and displays—organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs).

The Principles of Green Chemistry aim to make research as environmentally compatible as possible and to minimize negative impacts on human health.

Corporate responsibility and sustainability coin everything we do. Together with WHO, we’re fighting the deadly worm disease Schistosomiasis in Africa. Thanks to 500 million praziquantel tablets we have donated to date, 100 million patients have already received treatment, most of them children.

The Principles of Green Chemistry aim to make research as environmentally compatible as possible and to minimize negative impacts on human health. We offer more than 700 products that align with the Principles, such as our award-winning solvent, Cyrene, with which we help customers in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries to make their production processes safer and more environmentally sustainable.

We are developing smart windows which, thanks to liquid crystals, can regulate the amount of sunlight entering a building. This ensures the building stays cool in the summer and helps to heat it in the winter.

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