Repeatedly throughout history, innovation has occurred in spite of deadly epidemics.
Take, for example, Sir Isaac Newton’s iconic “discovery’ of gravity — perhaps the most recognizable anecdote about the birth of an innovative idea. In 1665, shortly after Newton graduated from Trinity College in Cambridge, the university temporarily closed as a precaution against the Great Plague of London. Like today’s city dwellers have also done, Newton fled to the countryside, moving back to his childhood home. It was here, in his family’s orchard, that he purportedly was hit on the head by a falling apple, inspiring him to eventually develop his law of universal gravitation.
Of course, no discussion of innovation is complete without the mention of famed polymath Ben Franklin. Known for his scientific inquisitiveness, the Founding Father is also credited with a variety of inventions, including lightning rods, bifocals, glass harmonicas and flexible catheters.
During Franklin’s teenage years, smallpox epidemics were ravaging Boston. Inoculation became a political flashpoint, dividing the city. Along with his older brother, Franklin launched an independent newspaper, criticizing, among many things, the clergy’s support of smallpox inoculations. Years later in 1736, Franklin would lose his own young son to smallpox, a tragedy that no doubt contributed to his shifting mindset. Franklin went on to champion the use of smallpox inoculations in the American colonies, even co-authoring a pamphlet explaining the benefits.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the quintessential symbol of innovation — the lightbulb. While Thomas Edison did not in fact invent the lightbulb, he was credited with creating the first commercially viable incandescent lightbulb, which he began to manufacture for the masses in the late 1870s. During this same time period, Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Co. (which would later become General Electric) and also developed the phonograph.
While this was happening, yellow fever was ripping through port cities throughout the country, prompting Congress to pass federal quarantine legislation. Newspaper clippings from the 1880s show that Edison also tried his hand at virology, conducting experiments in an attempt to eliminate “yellow jack.” His ideas, which included using gasoline and caustic soda, were not welcomed by physicians.
When the coronavirus brought in-person events to a halt this past March, we had not finished collecting our Pharma Innovation Awards prospects and, like the rest of the pharma industry, had been looking forward to the exciting new equipment and technology launches that are always indicative of the spring trade show season.
But plans change. We put our nomination form online. Equipment and technology suppliers were undeterred and continued their planned rollouts of helpful tools, and we were able to learn about all the new offerings virtually.
In this issue, we are happy to share 11 Pharma Innovation Award winners spanning five different categories with our readers. We are even happier to find that even in the worst of times, equipment technology is forging on, and there are still many accomplishments worth celebratin.