A CLEAR VIEW
Unlocking a spirit of curiosity and inquiry: Innovative strength has always been a firm part of Merck‘s DNA. The new Innovation Center in Darmstadt offers researchers an ideal environment to work on the products and solutions for tomorrow, for example, the ingenious LicriEye lens.
It’s a melting pot of a broad assortment of ideas. At the Innovation Center in Darmstadt, interdisciplinary teams from all three Merck business sectors are passionately pursuing promising developments. In order to intensively work on their discoveries inside the modern, newly constructed lightgray building with its wide window façade, most of the teams were the winners of company-internal competitions. They have thus already cleared the first hurdle on the road to success.
The focal point:
Merck’s liquid crystal expertise
The LicriEye project team, which comprises experts from Performance Materials and Healthcare working hand in hand, is pursuing a clear view in two senses. The project, which is still in the early stages of development, is focusing on a novel way of treating cataracts, a widespread eye disorder. A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye, which commonly occurs in people over the age of 65. People with cataracts increasingly have problems with blurry and distorted vision and they have trouble seeing contrasts or bright colors. In most cases, this is a process that advances slowly and, if left untreated, could lead to blindness. Cataracts are treated by having them surgically removed in an outpatient procedure that usually takes around 15 minutes. Cataract surgery ranks among the most frequently performed operations worldwide. During surgery, an incision is made to remove the patient’s clouded lens, which is then replaced by an intraocular artificial lens. The post-operative result depends on the precision of the implanted lens.
‟An improperly measured artificial lens can only be subsequently corrected by surgically replacing the lens. Additional research is definitely requiredand development potential exists.”Prof. Dr. Lutz Hesse, Director of the Ophthalmology Clinic, SLK-Kliniken Heilbronn
‟If the refractive index of the artificial lens has not been perfectly selected, the currently available intraocular lenses will not offer the patient precise vision after surgery,” said Professor Lutz Hesse, Director of the Ophthalmology Clinic at SLK-Kliniken in Heilbronn, Germany. ‟An improperly measured artificial lens can only be subsequently corrected by surgically replacing the lens. Additional research is definitely required and development potential exists.” The possible consequences are severe, for instance, poor eyesight with a refractive error of up to three diopters, which currently can only be corrected by eyeglasses.
“LicriEye has the potential to restore the vision of patients after cataract surgery.”Martin Schraub, Head of the LicriEye project
What makes LicriEye unique
LicriEye would enable ophthalmologists to change the focus of the artificial lens after cataract surgery non-invasively using a laser, thus correcting potentially poor vision. Merck's liquid crystals expertise is playing a key role here.
During cataract surgery, the patient’s clouded lens is replaced by an intraocular artificial lens. However, if the focal point of the artificial lens is not perfectly positioned, the patient will not have precise vision afterwards. It is not possible to correct this post-operatively. The patient thus needs glasses or would have to undergo surgery again.
With the use of a LicriEye lens, the possibility of the patient not having perfect vision after surgery also exists. But now the ophthalmologist might be able to adjust the lens using a laser and restore the patient's proper eyesight. The LicriEye project team is applying Merck's expertise in reactive mesogens, a substance class produced by Merck and used along with other substances in 3D displays.
This is where the work of the LicriEye team comes in. The aim is to develop, in collaboration with a partner, an intelligent lens whose focal point(s) can be adjusted to the patient’s needs after implantation. ‟Although lens implants have been standard medical practice for around 60 years now, there hasnot been very much development on the materials side,” explains project head Martin Schraub. Whereas most manufacturers have been using plexiglass and its derivatives, Merck is conducting research on an innovative material that is photochemically targeted to the specific requirements and standards of this future medicinal product. It has to be transparent, flexible and biocompatible. Schraub and his colleagues are drawing on Merck’s wealth of liquid crystals experience normally used to produce 3D displays.
After the lens has been implanted, the ophthalmologist could use a laser to non-invasively rework the material in order to individually adjust the optical properties of the lens, thus obviating the need for eyeglasses. Schraub, who is very optimistic about the market opportunities of the future medicinal product after potential regulatory approval, says, ‟LicriEye has the potential to restore the proper vision of patients after cataract surgery.” Negotiations on manufacturing and marketing the product with a large partner company have already made very good progress.
Project head Martin Schraub (left) talking to members of his team.
Scope for creativity
For a research-driven company such as Merck, innovations are a key success factor. Yet progress is hardly ever the outcome of a process that can be precisely planned. By contrast, in order to allow visionary ideas to become reality, unconventional thinking, courage to take risks, and a pioneering spirit are required. Inaugurated in October 2015, the modular Innovation Center at Merck headquarters in Darmstadt offers the required scope for creativity. ‟On the one hand, the center is a springboard for young talent to develop and realize their concepts,″ says Michael Gamber, Head of the Innovation Center. ‟On the other hand, it offers an attractive infrastructure for professional project work, which ideally will lead to future-oriented innovations.″ These could be new products or services, as well as new business models or processes. The teams working in the Innovation Center took part in company selection processes, where they were able to convince a jury of experts from all the business sectors. External start-ups also have the opportunity to realize their ideas in the modular Innovation Center and are given a suitable budget to do so. The project teams receive additional support from Merck coaches and experienced managers, who serve as mentors and networkers. Not least, the aim is also to test the marketability and competitiveness of their ideas. ‟As a company with a global footprint, international exchanges are especially important to us,″ Gamber emphasizes. Practical training, workshops, lectures, and online tutorials supplement the range of offers for the project teams in the modular Innovation Center.
„As a company with a global footprint, international exchanges are especially important to us.“Michael Gamber, Head of the Inoovation Center
Being open to new things is the guiding principle of the work in the two-story building, which has a surface area of nearly 4,000 square meters. The welcoming architecture also signals openness. There are no permanent offices, but rather flexible work spaces. The different wings of the building, which have been constructed as modules, are grouped around a spacious courtyard. The building is a trial run for the future Innovation Center, which is scheduled for completion by the end of 2017 and will form the heart of the new global headquarters. It is a key element of the ‟Fit for 2018″ transformation program and is intended to further boost Merck’s innovative strength.
Realizing ideas: The Innovation Center offers
young talent scope for creativity.
Further Innovation Center projects
A simple rapid test for clinical diagnostics
The research work of a further interdisciplinary project team from the Healthcare, Life Science and Performance Materials business sectors in the modular Innovation Center is dedicated to a postage stamp-sized test strip for clinical diagnostics and quality assurance. Thanks to its special surface properties, the test strips can be used to investigate multiple parameters in just a few drops of liquid, all at the same time. A further major advantage of this test is its ease of use. It requires neither trained experts nor complex sample preparation or special laboratory equipment. Theoretically, non-experts could also conduct these rapid and uncomplicated diagnostics. The test can be used in a wide variety of healthcare and life science applications. From immunoassays to biochemical assays, several reactions can be adapted to the platform to generate a simple, fast and cost-effective diagnostic test. The project aims to make diagnostics available to everyone, anywhere they’re needed.
A high success rate for in vitro fertilization
Merck is the leading supplier of hormones for fertility treatment. The Fertility Technology team led by Jan Kirsten is aiming to further strengthen Merck’s position in this therapeutic area and to improve treatment outcomes. For example, it has in-licensed and further developed new in vitro fertilization (IVF) technologies. The team is currently working on an innovative incubation system that is capable of simultaneously imaging embryonal development using a fully automated embryo and oocyte freezing system along with the Eeva® test. The aim of Eeva® (Early Embryo Viability Assessment) is to provide important information to assess in vitro fertilized embryos for transfer into the uterus. With these new technologies, fertility clinics can make more reliable decisions, for example when selecting the best embryo for transfer or freezing. Clinical trials show that the success rate of IVF treatments can be increased with the support of Eeva® in addition to traditional methods.
Efficient solutions for lab work
Analytical laboratories are confronted simultaneously by considerably growing numbers of samples and increasing pressure on costs. This situation requires new, rapid and economical forms of active ingredient analysis in many application fields. The Smart TLC project is conducting research in the modular Innovation Center on advanced solutions and methods designed to make laboratory work easier, application-friendlier and more efficient, as well as significantly increasing sample throughput. The objective is to considerably reduce analysis times while improving the quality of results and achieving greater reproducibility.
* The Eeva® test used together with traditional methods improves the success of implanting the blastocyst by 10 percentage points, compared to traditional methods alone.1, 2
- Adamson D, et al. Accepted for presentation at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Annual Conference, (2014).
- VerMilyea MD, et al. Computerautomated time-lapse analysis test results correlate to clinical pregnancy and embryo implantation:
A prospective, blinded, multi-centerstudy. Reprod BioMed Online. 2014; 29(6):729 – 736.