Reserach & Innovation

Experts Statements: Dr. Ralf Karch, Umicore

The Winning Formula: Chemists Who Can Collaborate Will Thrive in Pharmaceutical Research, Experts Predict

12.12.2016 -

Despite tremendous challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry, it continues with its commitment to innovation and the discovery of novel drugs to address unmet medical needs. Indeed, medicinal chemists face a challenge of their own. Trying to survive in a changing environment where pharma is focusing on biologics drug candidates will require chemists to adapt.

CHEManager International asked R&D experts of chemical and pharmaceutical companies to elaborate on their research strategy and share their opinion with our readers. In detail, we interviewed professionals ranging from CEOs to heads of R&D and process development about:

The crucial success factors in chemical and pharmaceutical research.

Dr. Ralf Karch:Œ The most important skills in a successful research group are to know precisely your core competencies — what we do and where we do best — as well as to know what we cannot do and where we can get access to these missing competencies. At Umicore we know our expertise lies in metal coordination chemistry, in excellence in handling highly sensitive or toxic materials, and in chemical process development and scale-up under regulated environments — GMP, ISO, etc. And we know we can rely on a number of close partners bringing related applications and technology expertise.


A collaboration ultimately
helps us to make the best use
of the core competencies of each
of our partners.

Dr. Ralf Karch,
Head of Research &
Development Precious Metals Chemistry,

This leads us to the necessary mindset for success: collaborate. Because a collaboration ultimately helps us to make the best use of the core competencies of each of our partners. Cooperating with customers keeps us focused on understanding them, their strategies and their needs — aiming to deliver faster, better and more cost-efficiently. Collaborations with our technology and development partners bring us out-of-the-box thinking, missing competencies for further organometallic materials development and insights to develop on time the next generation of catalysts, high potency APIs, or even electronic materials.

Strategically aligning these collaborations and leveraging on the tremendous amount of information and knowledge generated, without divulgating any proprietary information, requires efficient tools. Open access to a structured market, technology or customer information is key, combined with quick access to new technical information, as well as shared platforms allowing efficient exchange between the scientists and the specialists of our fields. Because a challenging pharma project may benefit from the successful development of an electronic material!


Challenges and changes affecting the work of R&D chemists in the future.

Dr. Ralf Karch: The biggest challenge of a chemist today is speed: meaning how to develop a product faster albeit at constant level of quality, with the same level of process safety for a smooth and fast transfer to commercial production — all this while surrounded by an unrivalled flow of new or even contradictory information.

Does it mean that the research chemist will need to evolve to be more of an analyst, to become an expert in accurately and quickly defining a problem and developing its solution out of the amount of information available? Probably — as well as the “too slow” chemical development may have to be restricted to fundamental research, or to a few strategic development projects.