Merck is a leading science and technology company with more than 350 years of history. Curiosity, quality and responsibility are at the core of everything we do, always with one goal in mind: to make a positive difference to millions of people’s lives every day. To drive human progress, it is crucial for us to anticipate human needs and, based on this, drive and enable essential advancements in science across various key industries. Open innovation is in our DNA. We strive to turn this vision into action and achieve great things by collaborating with partners around the world.
To demonstrate our commitment to create a better world with science and technology, and to mark our 350th anniversary, Merck created the €1 million Future Insight prize to honour and enable scientists who contribute to solving some of the greatest challenges faced by our planet. The prize will be awarded annually for 35 years. In 2018, the first prize was announced and was dedicated to the topic ‘pandemic preparedness’, a whole year and a half prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Prizes for antimicrobial resistance and technologies to secure the nutrition of a growing world population followed. This year, the prize will be awarded to scientists whose work enables making a difference in energy or climate change through reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The prizewinner will be announced at the Curious2022 – Future Insight conference in July this year. Proposals on topics for upcoming Future Insight prizes can be submitted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make science faster
Merck aims to make science faster and enable scientists to create best-in-class pioneering solutions that address unmet and emerging needs of society. We focus on using data and digital technology systematically to improve scientific research, products, solutions and business processes. In doing so, we want to help our customers to operate more successfully and efficiently in dynamic markets.
To leverage the power of digitalization for research and development (R&D), Merck runs the annual Merck Compound Synthesis Challenge, a competition to identify the most efficient synthetic route for a given small molecule, supported by our Synthia retrosynthesis software. Likewise, research grants on digital powered projects are available at http://researchgrants.merckgroup.com and exciting competitions offered at http://researchchallenges.merckgroup.com.
But the opportunities do not stop there. Merck, for example, also aims to enable participants of the healthcare and semiconductor industries to unlock the power of big data analytics and collaboration across their respective sector ecosystems. To achieve this goal, Syntropy and Athinia were created in partnership with Palantir Technologies.
Both companies ensure the data within each respective ecosystem are converted into meaningful information and enable platform participants to rapidly and securely acquire knowledge and take actions that help advance technological progress. By serving as enablers, Syntropy and Athinia empower customers from the healthcare and semiconductor industries, respectively, to collaborate and innovate at scale with the creation of insights, algorithms and models.
Syntropy – for the healthcare industry
When unlocking the value of healthcare data, the issue is not the amount of data available, but how data are collected, curated and analysed that determines their full value. Research institutions around the world are generating a rapidly growing amount of biomedical data, but much of the data are trapped in silos within and between institutions. Today, critical data are often inaccessible to the scientists and clinicians who need the information to advance their work.
At its core the main challenge is that researchers often spend up to 80% of their time integrating and preparing data for analysis. Syntropy breaks down data silos in a researcher’s workflows and integrates different data sets from different data sources such as clinical, molecular and genomic data – which are often disparate and incompatible – and brings them together in a structured and usable way. Once individuals have established an effective workflow that delivers structured and usable data, Syntropy pulls discrete data sources together to into one high-quality platform to enable meaningful analysis. Data creators and collaborators across research organizations and life science institutions can work together on developing new insights and improving patient care in a secure, transparent, data rich environment. The data remain inside a secure and compliant platform and are permanently linked to the source for clear attribution.
Syntropy represents a data integration and analytics environment wherein healthcare organizations can contextualize and analyse infinitely diverse data types securely across their entire ecosystem, enabling experts to collaborate in the fight against cancer and many other diseases.
Athinia – for the semiconductor industry
With the proliferation of digital technologies, there is immense pressure on the semiconductor industry to produce with zero defects and rapidly deliver new innovations to market – a situation that has been accentuated due to the chip shortage.
The immense amount of data produced today creates opportunities for not only a single company, but for the entire value chain to achieve excellence in production, innovation and cost reduction. The continuous and secure sharing of data between many companies in the semiconductor industry has become a critical need to create a new standard in quality. Industry participants know that there is a need for data collaboration, but individual companies do not want to establish an isolated ecosystem given the prohibitive cost and time investments. Moreover, the average semiconductor supplier needs five to ten years to create the required data foundation. Many companies have dispersed data systems and lengthy learning cycles and capability building.
The Athinia platform was created to address limitations and provide a single source of real-time data for collaborating on relevant information from participants across the industry (Fig. 1). It brings manufacturers and materials suppliers together, to share, aggregate, and analyse data to unlock efficiencies, improve quality, supply chain transparency, and time to market in a highly secure way. Connecting the value chain allows companies to be more efficient and innovate quickly.
Athinia creates a new standard in quality based on a data ecosystem that allows secure and continuous feedback and sharing of data between many companies to avoid siloes. Athinia will increase the efficiency of current production, as companies will better understand their own data to reduce quality deviations and speed up time to market.
The rapidly increasing number of process variables within semiconductor manufacturing requires smart and scalable data and analytical capabilities from industry players. Moreover, due to the growing amount and types of data, companies need to focus time and resources on parameters that matter the most so they can remain competitive. Finding and interpreting the right parameters is of utmost importance, but not always easy. In fact, one of the challenges is that key parameters that impact performance are often hidden below the surface and are not identified in standard certificate of analysis procedures (CofA) (Fig. 2). Therefore, statistical analysis and machine learning models are essential to determine critical to quality key performance indicators for specific processes that would have remained hidden otherwise.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for predictive material analytics is pivotal to make sense of big data and unlock all the above-mentioned benefits. Athinia enables customers to leverage off-the-shelf machine learning models as well as build custom algorithms to enable analysis of encrypted customer data.
Big data can be quite complex to manage, therefore it is important to ensure that complex data are as straightforward as possible to navigate. Combining a highly secure and user-friendly platform with expert support, data aggregation and analysis becomes more efficient and easier than ever before.
Leading with ethics and security
Both Syntropy and Athinia handle data responsibly by enabling data collaboration without ever taking ownership of that data. Both companies have been built based on state-of-the-art security architecture that brings different parties together within their respective sectors to collaborate on key data. This ensures that intellectual property is protected and that each company retains full control of governance and ownership over their data.
The secure collaboration between ecosystem participants in each industry is facilitated by Palantir´s Foundry platform, which fulfills and exceeds the current requirements for data security and ownership available. Palantir is a world-class provider of secure data integration technology, while Merck draws on a long history in bioethics that has evolved to expand into digital ethics.
With technology advancing at an unseen pace, questions around who bears responsibility for digital action are commonplace. Merck has not only thought about these existential questions but has acted as a true pioneer with the initial formation of its Digital Ethics Advisory Panel, followed by the rollout of its Code of Digital Ethics (CoDE). The CoDE was developed together with the Digital Ethics Advisory Panel to provide clear ethical principles for handling data and algorithms, and to address the rapid and dynamic nature of deploying novel digital technologies, such as Syntropy.
Merck – the place to be for top talent
Aside from open innovation opportunities powered by data and digital, Merck also offers exciting employment opportunities for top talents from all over the world. Apply at come2merck.com or engage in our Innovation Cup for graduate students to get a taste on how R&D at Merck works. We are looking forward to seeing you soon!