Corporate Research's Weighty Role

Corporate Research's Weighty Role

A convergence of industry research and developmentis transforming science and technology in the New York metro area—and beyond.

Read digital edition

In its quest for creating new products as one of the world's leading food and beverage companies, there's hard science at work behind PepsiCo's research and development initiatives. For instance, in the area of flavors, PepsiCo scientists have enlisted a high-tech company robot, encased in a clear glass box and hardwired to the genetic sequences of human taste buds. The robot might taste 100,000 assays ranging from roots, plants, and fruits per day; and the payoff could be huge. PepsiCo, based in Purchase, NY, sees the use of this technology as one of the many ways to continue building upon its success of offering a highly diversified portfolio that ranges from treats to healthy eats. Today, that success includes 22 $1 billion brands.

"The robot is a tool to help us look into nature more efficiently, faster, and actually with greater sensitivity," says Mehmood Khan, PepsiCo's executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Global Research and Development, adding that the taste quest then shifts into higher gear: "How do we take a leaf and find the ingredient inside it? That's the bridge between modern science, robotics, and the culinary arts."

PepsiCo's advanced technological taster is not only a unique capability; it symbolizes the innovation inherent in corporate research and development (R&D) in the New York metro area. Corporate research ranks among the most important sources of discovery, whether seeking solutions to problems—from everyday ills to major global challenges; improving quality of life; or even extending life itself. And the New York tri-state area is a veritable hotbed of corporate activity.

Hundreds of company labs provide the area with considerable scientific clout stemming from a significant investment in everything from basic scientific research to applied technology development, and grease the wheels of the mega-region's $2 trillion-plus economy. From the food we eat, to the medicines we rely on, to the electronics we use, and the energy sources that power them—corporate research is constantly pushing the envelope of "new and improved." Here, we take a look at just a few of the corporate research initiatives driving scientific and technological innovation in the New York-metro area, and the resulting products and services that are changing our world, both near and far.

"How do we take a leaf and find the ingredient inside it? That's the bridge between modern science, robotics, and the culinary arts."

Targeting the Big C

Scores of world-class biopharmaceutical companies are creating the therapies of the future, right now, in the New York region. Called the "nation's medicine chest," the New York tri-state area is home to the biggest concentration of life sciences companies in the world. It has long been home to major industry players like Bayer, which invented aspirin in 1897, and is now conducting research in oncogenomics—a field of research that identifies and characterizes genes associated with cancer—to develop therapeutic agents that selectively target cancer genome alterations.

Further moving the needle in oncology research, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies is advancing a cancer interception initiative aimed at developing a new paradigm in cancer diagnosis and treatment. Johnson & Johnson is the world's largest healthcare company, and Janssen is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies and the sixth largest biotech in the world. Janssen, based in New Jersey, is striving to achieve a more robust understanding of the mechanisms underlying the initiation of normal cells to a pre-malignant state. Its goal is to develop products capable of interrupting the carcinogenic process—eventually allowing clinicians to diagnose and intercept cancer at its earliest stages, when pre-malignancies are less complex and less resistant to therapy.

Driving Breakthrough Therapeutics

Among Janssen's recent successes is SIRTURO™, a medicine for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB). SIRTURO was granted accelerated approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012. It is the first medicine for pulmonary multi-drug resistant TB with a novel mechanism of action in more than 40 years. TB, second only to HIV/AIDS as one of the greatest killers worldwide, infected 8.6 million people last year, and more than 1.3 million died.

Eli Lilly & Company is also tackling a notoriously tough foe: Alzheimer's disease. This year marks the company's 25-year commitment to investing in Alzheimer's disease R&D. "Our R&D approaches and expertise in Alzheimer's disease have resulted in a strong pipeline encompassing both potential diagnostics and therapeutics for amyloid and tau pathways," says Jan Lundberg, president of Lilly Research Laboratories, which has a significant presence in New York.

However, because for every 10,000 compounds researched in laboratories, only 100 are tested, and perhaps only one will become an actual medicine, Lilly developed a five-part Timely Valued Medicines strategy to improve the odds of success. Part of this strategy involves better disease understanding and validated disease targets or mechanisms; for example: Lilly developed Amyvid, an imaging agent that allows researchers to image the brains of patients for detection of amyloid plaques, a key characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.

Pfizer—the world's largest research-based pharmaceutical company, with an annual R&D budget approaching $7 billion—also has a robust commitment to innovation, with the end-goal of significantly improving patients' lives.

"We believe that over time precision medicine—delivering the right drug, to the right patient, at the right time—will result in superior clinical outcomes for patients and enable more efficient clinical development," says Mikael Dolsten, president of worldwide R&D at Pfizer, which is based in New York.

One example of this is Pfizer's Xalkori (crizotinib), which is designed for a specific group of lung cancer patients with a defect in the ALK gene. In 2011, Pfizer received U.S. FDA approval for this first-in-class therapy. Pfizer researchers continue to apply precision medicine R&D to advance future therapies for patients with difficult-to-treat cancers.

Similarly committed to patient outcomes, Acorda Therapeutics is invested in restoring function to and improving the lives of people with multiple sclerosis (MS), spinal cord injury, and neurological conditions. It was founded in 1995 by a physician who operated the company out of a bedroom with the motto, "Therapies or bust!" Today the company, based in Ardsley, NY, manufactures and markets Ampyra, the first and only MS therapy that has been specifically approved to improve walking in people with MS.

Acorda's neurology pipeline encompasses five separate products at the clinical or pre-New Drug Application stage. The company is now exploring the use of extended release dalfampridine in new disease areas: post-stroke deficits and cerebral palsy. Initial data show improved walking in people with post-stroke deficits—a potentially huge boon to the more than 7 million stroke survivors in the U.S.

With names like Bausch & Lomb, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Kadmon, Merck, Novartis, and Regeneron, dotting the local map, the New York tri-state region is an incredible source for groundbreaking diagnostics, treatments, and cures.

"We believe cognitive systems that learn, reason, and interact naturally with people will become the biggest opportunity in our industry over the next few decades."

Advancing the Digital Realm

Perhaps no other company has a research legacy quite like Armonk, NY-based IBM. With 12 laboratories in 10 countries, the company has generated more patents than any other company for 20 consecutive years. IBM Research aided Apollo moon landings, was crucial to the discovery of fractals, and invented the technology behind laser eye surgery. IBM Research is also responsible for a series of technologies and products that have transformed day-to-day living: the automated teller machine, the hard disk drive, the magnetic stripe card, the Universal Product Code, and the Sabre central reservation system, which revolutionized the travel industry and served as precursor for the entire universe of e-commerce.

Now, IBM Research is embarking on a new frontier: cognitive computing, which the company expects to dramatically change our relationships with computers.

"The most exciting dynamic in technology and business today is the confluence of four massive trends—big data, the cloud, social media, and the instrumented, connected world we call the Smarter Planet," says John E. Kelly III, director of Research at IBM.

"This environment drives completely new thinking and is driving the emergence of a third 'cognitive' era of computing. We believe cognitive systems that learn, reason, and interact naturally with people will become the biggest opportunity in our industry over the next few decades."

The first cognitive computer was IBM's Watson, which debuted in 2011 in a televised Jeopardy! challenge and beat the show's two greatest champions. Today, Watson is working with doctors, insurers, and customer service professionals to transform the outcomes that can be achieved. But that vision will require computer scientists to reinvent virtually every aspect of computing, from how we think about applications and data, to the nature of computer hardware.

IBM scientists want to eventually create computing systems that emulate the brain's capacity to adapt. As a result, cognitive computers will not be programmed; they will be trained using enormous volumes of data that no single human could ever process.

"Research is central to IBM because we are continuously shifting to higher value," says Kelly. "It's important to have the courage to disrupt yourself—based on deep insight and fueled by powerful ideas brought to life by very unique skills."

Did You Know? The New York-metro area is home to 60% of the country's pharmaceutical industry.

Powering Our World

The cities and towns that make up the New York-metro area are home to a staggering number of businesses, and one thing they all have in common is a thirst for more and more energy. New York City's commercial and industrial sectors consumed more than 42% of power usage in 2011, and their energy needs are growing.

Perhaps surprisingly, New York is among the nation's most energy-efficient cities due to its reliance on public transportation (two of every three users of mass transit in the U.S. live in Greater New York) and its sheer density (1 million buildings crammed into 300 square miles). Even so, energy concerns abound as demand grows, and area companies are seeking novel ways to reduce carbon footprints while increasing the reliability and efficiency of energy delivery.

Con Edison, a utility whose electric and steam businesses date back to the days of Thomas Edison, has new plans to meet tomorrow's energy needs. Among its consumer-focused programs is one that allows New Yorkers with room air conditioners to remotely control their thermostats using a device called a Modlet. In addition, the modern electrical outlet allows engineers to remotely control window units on the hottest days. With 6 million room air conditioners in its service territory, Con Edison sees great potential in the device.

Con Edison Development and Con Edison Solutions—competitive energy businesses—are looking heavily to clean energy development, with a $500 million investment in solar projects, making it one of the top five solar producers in North America.

Meanwhile, Connecticut-headquartered General Electric is picking up the pace of its product development cycle by using a Rapid Prototyping Center. The center's 3D printer, which creates products by printing them layer upon layer, reduces part development time by 80% on average.

"We recognize that science requires extensive and open collaboration."

Better Together

While the sheer range of companies involved in R&D in the New York region is astounding, there is increasing overlap, both within and outside of the corporate sector. PepsiCo, which is planning the future of food, cites a need for 40% more food productivity on the planet by 2050 due to population growth. While industry has to take up the cause, "because 90% of the world's population buys its food from the private sector," says Khan, " food companies, academia, governments, NGOs—all of us— must come together to work collaboratively. Ultimately, we need to deliver this food."

The focus on the greater good—and major global challenges— is apparent in medicine too. Biomarker experts at Johnson & Johnson's Janssen are collaborating with academic centers to develop and commercialize next-generation circulating tumor cell technology for capturing, counting, and characterizing tumor cells found in a patient's blood. The cross-sector work is not usual for the company.

"In total, I think we do 100 collaborations per year in early science and technology," says Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer, Johnson & Johnson, and worldwide chairman, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. This includes work that comes out of the company's new research hubs, one of which is based in New York, that foster R&D collaborations with entrepreneurs, emerging companies, and leading academic centers.

Pfizer's Center for Therapeutic Innovation, which co-locates industry scientists with academic researchers in major bio-innovation clusters, including New York City, aims to transform the biopharmaceutical R&D model—making it speedier and more creative. "We seek to be a nodal player at the center of a thriving ecosystem that includes academic scientists, patient foundations, government researchers, and other innovators. We recognize that science requires extensive and open collaboration," says Dolsten.

The idea—that working together leads to bigger gains—is one that in the past might have been dismissed as a barrier to the all-important competitive edge, but is today part and parcel of New York's booming research industry mindset. The companies that call New York home see such close quarters in terms of benefits, not just concessions. And to be sure, New York derives immeasurable value from the industry tenants that help to shape its status as a region always looking to the future.


Steven Barboza is a writer in New Jersey.