The oncology drug Erbitux® is Merck’s second most important pharmaceutical product, generating several hundred million euros in sales every year. But this drug almost did not make it to market, because the licensee of Erbitux® originally failed to successfully register it. This changed after Merck took charge of the process and conducted further clinical trials. The company then put together a new application, with the result that Merck had Erbitux® approved for the treatment of advanced colorectal cancer and advanced head and neck tumors. The drug has become a huge success.
Erbitux® is the best-selling product to have ever received Merck’s Innovation Award. The award is presented each year to teams whose newly developed products or processes have been a resounding market success. The winners receive EUR 25,000 as well as a lot of attention, because the award is presented at Merck’s most important executive conference of the year. Since the company’s entire senior leadership team, including the Executive Board, attends the event, the winning employees could hardly advertise themselves better. This can only help them in their future careers, demonstrating that good ideas really pay off.
Inventiveness is part of our DNA
This payoff is one of the main reasons for the award, because Merck is not a mass producer, but instead offers special products for niche markets. Innovation is therefore crucial to keeping the company competitive. “Inventiveness is part of our DNA,” says Walter Huber, Head of Corporate Communications and the person responsible for organizing the Innovation Award competition. “You have to offer rewards in order to promote this inventiveness.”
The Innovation Award is one of these rewards. The first Innovation Award was presented in 1998 to the team that developed Xirallic®, which consists of coated aluminum flakes that are mixed with automotive paints in order to create a lustrous pearly effect. The award winners are selected by a panel of three managing directors, the head of the patent department, and the previous year’s winner. Besides the Innovation Award, Merck also offers a number of subcategory awards, including the award for Intercultural Collaboration, which this year honored cooperation between Merck employees in Germany, India, and Dubai, as well as the Award for Customer Orientation and the Award for Entrepreneurial Thinking. The winning team in each of these subcategories receives EUR 10,000 in prize money.
Next year the Innovation Award will be renamed the Merck Award. In addition, the Group-wide award will be organized differently. It will no longer consist of a first prize and three subcategories, but instead of four equally important categories: Change, Innovation, Business Excellence, and Customer Orientation.
Innovations are often the result of a long project development phase. Merck specifically promotes the generation of new ideas here as well. One of the ways it does this is through the “innospire” program, which was introduced in 2009. The aim of this program is to exploit the innovation potential of all of Merck’s employees and to support cooperation across disciplines. In this program, employees suggest ideas for new products. The various concepts compete with one another, with the prize going to the best idea.
“Innospire gives employees who think entrepreneurially the opportunity to transform their ideas into convincing business plans with the help of various business schools. The employees can then present their plans to Merck’s top management and turn them into reality with the assistance of their own project teams,” explain Ulrich Betz and Michael Gerards, who manage the innospire project at Merck Pharmaceuticals and Chemicals.