Charting the Course for Future Innovation

Leaders connect through Abbott's Scientific Governing Board to shape the future of life-changing technologies.

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Strategy and Strength | Nov. 8, 2019

During the last five years, Abbott has spent nearly $9 billion on research and development. The responsibility for turning those investment dollars into life-changing health innovations falls, in part, to the leaders who sit on the Scientific Governing Board.

The board’s 14 members include the heads of R&D from all of Abbott’s businesses, from diabetes care to neuromodulation and rapid diagnostics to nutrition. Together they represent decades of experience in the health technology and science industries. They use that knowledge to help guide the company's long-term research outlook.

Every month when the board meets, topics are frequently centered on health technology trends and points of collaboration across the company's four core businesses – medical devices, diagnostics, nutrition and medicines. The goal? Making the best use of Abbott’s deep bench of scientific and engineering expertise.

"We are thinking about what innovation looks like in the future,” said Toni Nosbush, divisional vice president of Product Development for Abbott's Vascular business and a board member. "We have to stop thinking about the individual widgets or products we create and instead leverage this incredible wealth that Abbott has across so many businesses to best treat the whole patient."

Members network, creating opportunities for the 'what if?' moments that could lead to Abbott's next groundbreaking ideas. Ryan Lakin, divisional vice president of Product Development in Neuromodulation and a board member, has tapped into the collective best practices of fellow board members to help strengthen his R&D teams.

"We've changed how our teams work together, created new roles and enabled technical decision-making around a structured innovation process, which is all about selecting the right programs for the future," Lakin said. "We now have small, nimble teams that drive forward the innovation agenda."

The board also is actively engaged in the future of Abbott's health technology focus. This happens when members notice and discuss larger research trends, such as data analytics, machine learning and other emerging areas. That opens the door to allow each Abbott business to talk about the best ways to innovate.

"Discussing the different directions our businesses are headed helps all of the business leaders collaborate even more," Lakin said. "That leads to better innovations across Abbott's entire product portfolio."

The board also is responsible for recognizing scientific excellence at the company through programs like the Volwiler Society, created in 1985 to honor the company’s most distinguished scientists and engineers for excellence in creativity, productivity and contributions to Abbott.

The society is named for Dr. Ernest Volwiler, a highly regarded scientist who also served as Abbott's president and chairman during the 1950s. Volwiler led the creation of a series of breakthrough anesthetics, culminating in Pentothal, which resulted in his election to the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame.

The Volwiler Society's approximately 90 members are among the top engineers and scientists in Abbott's businesses. Members can rise to higher ranks within the society, encouraging them to stay actively involved in the pursuit of innovation.

Examples of Volwiler honorees' recent work include ideas involving gut health, product development digitization and disease diagnostics. All innovations that will serve Abbott’s goal of helping people be healthier thanks to our life-changing technologies.

Abbott's scientists have earned the company honors too. Abbott has been included on Science magazine's top 20 employers list more than a dozen times.