BIOAVAILABIITY ENHANCEMENT – Innovators & Corporate Cultures: Symbiotic Relationships

“Innovation champions: The lower they are in the organization hierarchy, the more innovative and tenacious they are.”

The data and discussion in previous columns have shown that solubilization technologies are being adopted at an increasing rate. The need is clear, and while we can observe the effects of innovation diffusion – though the growth in related publications, patents, marketed drugs – there’s a more personal story that deserves exploration. All of the results we are seeing are based on the creativity and tenacity of individuals and the corporate environments that nurture or, at the very least, tolerate change and innovation. In this column, I will explore some of the key features of people and organizations that foster creative ideas, paradigm shifts and new methodologies and products. I hope that by example, we can acquire insights that will be useful in our respective organizations and that might ultimately lead to more innovation in our industry.

Diana Day observed that a combination of champions from opposite ends of the spectrum, from the bottom-up (individuals who innovate) along with top-down support (the right management and corporate cultures), can create the petri dish in which ideas can foment and flourish.1 There are numerous examples of champions who succeed in bringing new ideas to fruition in spite of all odds and against the expressed wishes or direction of management. For example, the vision and tenacity of Toshiba’s Tetsuya Mizoguchi brought about the introduction of the world’s first mass-marketed laptop in 1985. The interesting part of the story is that the executive team, with their vast experience, believed laptops were a passing fad and refused to fund the project. But Mizoguchi persevered, scraped together the resources, and built a prototype. It took 2 years but ultimately he found success, and no one would question the brilliance of his vision today.

I’m sure many readers can identify with Mizoguchi and two key take-aways from this example. First, individual innovators with determination can effect large changes in their segment of an industry. Second, imagine what could happen given a corporate culture that actively empowers individuals to overcome challenges and to find new opportunities leveraging imagination, intellect, tenacity, and technology.

Throughout the first two quarters of 2014, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and dialogue with pharmaceutical and biotech research experts across the industry and university communities at a number of conferences. I’ve also had the benefit of gaining insight from experts in the study of innovation and the diffusion of technology. As you might imagine, in addition to discussions about the general state of the industry and industry trends, the issue of drug delivery challenges and, more specifically, overcoming poor bioavailability has been a common thread. World experts have presented innovative strategies for overcoming hurdles in the delivery of poorly soluble drugs and the benefits of utilizing drug delivery technology platforms, including co-crystals, lipids, hot-melt extrusion, solid dispersion technologies, and emerging technologies, including silica-based solutions and microneedles.

The most recent conference I attended was sponsored by the Catalent Applied Drug Delivery Institute (ADDI) and was held at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, MN. The mission of Catalent’s ADDI is stated as follows: “Our passion is improving treatment outcomes for patients, providers, and innovators with an intense focus on transforming the application of drug delivery technologies.”2 As most of you know, 3M is recognized as a world leader (if not the world leader) in innovation, and I can’t imagine a more appropriate venue to underscore Catalent’s goals, and a better company than 3M to serve as a role model for creativity and innovative solutions. It was my first time on the 3M campus, and I’m certain that most of you who’ve visited 3M have had the same reaction I did: creative energy is in the atmosphere, and it is contagious. But the success of 3M did not come overnight. In fact, it has taken over a century of dedicated focus to create, preserve, and nurture an environment that continues to sustain this great company.3 It is worth taking a look at 3M to see if there are lessons we can adapt to our needs as we face the challenge of overcoming poor bioavailability.


3M started in 1902 with the goal of mining corundum in northern Minnesota (hence the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company – 3M) to focus on businesses requiring abrasives. The mine they acquired, however, was devoid of the valued hard mineral but contained the worthless mineral anorthosite. Despite that major setback, and through perseverance, hard work, and creative problem-solving, the business evolved to become a manufacturer of sandpaper. And from that basis, 3M built what would eventually become the leading innovation company it is today. The business results are more than impressive: $31 billion in annual sales in 2013, nearly 90,000 employees producing more than 55,000 products. 3M has a technological and business footprint in adhesives, abrasives, laminates, electronic materials, car-care products, electronic circuits, optical films, and medical products. In fact, as Dr. Steve Wick (3M’s Vice President, Research & Development) said at the recent ADDI conference, “…you are never more than a few inches away from a 3M product.”

While it is true that 3M is developing innovative drug delivery technology to overcome significant bioavailability challenges (ie, hollow microneedles), for the purposes of this column my interest is more in what can be understood about the environment and culture they’ve created that could be more broadly applied to our idustry. As you may already know or can certainly imagine, a vast amount of research has referenced 3M, discussing the company’s successes and analyzing the methodologies by which they have created, reinvented, and preserved the corporate culture that has served them so well.4 The exchange of ideas – from people within an industry sector and from without – is a key attribute of the 3M culture.

In Gundling’s book on 3M, he presents a multidimensional model used by the company that accommodates four types of innovation and their hybrids and how 3M has experienced revolutionary breakthroughs as incremental and evolutionary ideas – such as Post-Its – evolve from the 1st quadrant (shown in Figure 1) into a revolutionary product and create a new market.3,5


3M has a well-known policy of allowing employees 15% of their time – after their key responsibilities are met – to pursue ideas that may not be endorsed by the company, but that employees believe have promise in serving business goals. Employee empowerment allows 3M to continually extend its reach into areas that may not at first appear promising (to management), but that might just move the company toward an opportunity based on the passion, commitment, and tenacity of an individual. This policy is coupled with another key aspect of the 3M culture and the ongoing effort to attract and hire employees who are a good fit and have compatible attributes and attitudes.3 The people they recruit appear to have qualities that enable the company to run with new ideas, break down barriers through creative and innovative problem-solving, and exploit resources from a broad array of disciplines. One personal attribute the company looks for in future “3Mers” is broad areas of interest; the benefits of this strategy seems to be reflected in the product areas they have expanded into and the creative application of technologies across industry sectors.

In 1951, 3M established the Tech Forum, to “encourage the free and active interchange of information and the cross-fertilization of ideas.”6 These once-a-year gatherings were designed to facilitate interactions among employees from all technological areas to allow them to share ideas, network, and allow intellectual cross-pollination. The belief that “one idea leads to the next” is an axiom on which much of the culture of 3M is based.7 This philosophy – along with that of the 15% rule – creates an environment that inherently allows ideas to continue, evolve, and become refined even when naysayers would cancelled a project.


3M has enviable breadth and depth in expertise, industries, and technologies; they have made significant contributions in introducing new technologies and delivery systems that can address poorly bioavailable drugs, and we can expect more. In previous columns, we’ve discussed how platforms have been borrowed from other industries throughout the past several decades to help us tackle solubilization, including spray-drying and micronization. If those of us in the industry strive to accomplish even more cross-fertilization, thinking about a “virtual 3M approach,” I’m convinced that together we can tackle more of the barriers we face faster and with new innovations.

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1. Day DL. Raising radicals: different processes for championing innovative corporate ventures. Organizational Science. 1994;5(2):148-172.
2. Catalent Applied Drug Delivery Institute.
3. Gundling E. The 3M Way to Innovation, Balancing People and Profit. Published by Kodansha International, Ltd.;2000.
4. Since 1975, nearly 8,000 articles have mentioned 3M as an example when discussing best practices. Agere analysis, GoogleScholar.
5. Ernest Gundling, Adapted by Agere for this article.
6. 3M website.
7. 3M website.

Marshall Crew
President & CEO
Agere Pharmaceuticals, Inc.