“We ask: ‘Does this technology add value for our customers and for patients?’”
Generating scientific and technological expertise and transforming it into industrial products are of crucial importance for Sartorius. To understand how Sartorius drives innovation, we have initiated a series of interviews with Oscar-Werner Reif, Head of Corporate Research and Chief Technology Officer. In this first interview, he explains the role of his department, the latest trends his team is working on and how ideas are transformed into products.
This article is posted on Sartorius Blog.
Dr. Reif, you lead the Corporate Research department at Sartorius. What role does this department play within the company?
First, it is important to establish that medical knowledge and the understanding of the life science in general is expanding exponentially worldwide. New findings emerge each and every day. Researchers are continuously collecting data, testing processes, and developing technologies. This is good news for patients, because it means that new or improved medications and therapies are constantly becoming available. For companies such as ours, however, this progress presents a real challenge.
In what way?
At Sartorius, we help researchers and engineers to achieve precisely this kind of progress. To do this effectively, we have to maintain an overview of the field at all times and anticipate future developments as accurately as possible. That may sound trivial, but it is not easy given the highly dynamic nature of research in the life sciences. We need to identify relevant developments early on, so that we can later move into future areas of research and business. That is one of the main tasks of Corporate Research.
We need to identify relevant developments early on, so that we can later move into future areas of research and business. That is one of the main tasks of Corporate Research.
Head of Corporate Research, CTO
How do you do this?
We analyze a wide range of new trends, tools, and features to assess their technical and strategic importance and relevance for Sartorius. The most important questions we ask are: Does this new technology add value for our customers and for patients? Can we position ourselves in this future area? Could a certain technology even be disruptive and potentially jeopardize one of our existing lines of business? This assessment is a long-term, ongoing process.
What happens if you discover something exciting?
Then we try to create the technical and scientific conditions for the commercial use of that technology. Our network is of prime importance here. Working with our external partners gives us access to leading scientists and their expertise. As a research department, we aim to convert a significant proportion of the ideas we consider important into new products and processes, or advancements of existing ones, for our customers. Quite frankly, nothing frustrates us more than doing lots of research on a topic but ultimately not obtaining any concrete results or without the option to turn the idea into a product. In this respect, our work also involves deciding when to terminate a project or stop pursuing a subject further —even if the idea is fundamentally exciting.
Corporate Research is an application and technology-focused department, we are increasingly operating beyond the scope of the company’s daily operations and primarily collaborate with external partners.
What are you working on right now?
We are looking at questions in areas ranging from molecular biology and data analytics to process engineering. To cite an example, computer-aided simulation is becoming increasingly important for biopharmaceutical research and production. That is why we are focusing on data analytics, from machine learning to artificial intelligence. Another area of focus is the development of new methods for genome editing, or in other words, techniques to modify specific genes and consequently whole cells and organisms. We believe that both of these areas have the potential to revolutionize medicine and, above all, the development and manufacture of innovative therapies. Sartorius needs to be prepared for this and firmly position itself within these future areas of focus. I am confident that we, working together with our partners, will succeed in doing so.
Can you give a specific example?
Together with the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, the DFKI, we operate the Sartorius AI Lab, or SAIL for short. The DFKI is one of the world’s leading research institutions in this field. At SAIL, we test and develop ways to use AI in our products and on our platforms. In the long term, it will be possible to extensively simulate and optimize biopharmaceutical manufacturing processes. We believe that such methods can help considerably shorten development times and cut costs for new therapies. That is exactly what we want to achieve at Sartorius, and this is just one example of our broad range of collaborations.
Do you develop products all the way to market maturity?
We pass on promising approaches and concepts to Product Development. This department, together with Marketing, ultimately decides which ideas will be translated into products. Because Corporate Research is an application and technology-focused department, we are increasingly operating beyond the scope of the company’s daily operations and primarily collaborate with external partners. This means that we are dealing with topics and developments that, at least so far, have not been among Sartorius’ traditional core competencies. We are supported and advised in our efforts by, among others, an expert committee of leading international biotech specialists.
Are you referring to the Scientific Advisory Board of Sartorius?
Yes. This is a panel of leading researchers in various areas of technology and the life sciences, among them cell therapy, cell line engineering, cell analytics, nanotechnologies, and data analytics. The board provides a critical point of view, and this unbiased outside perspective helps us to stay on the right track. At the same time, the members of the Advisory Board are an important part of our network.