“Yes, I think of myself as a process engineer,” Shott said, reminiscing about his efforts to combine process development R&D with contract manufacturing at Rhodia ChiRex. Shott also challenged his peers to rewrite the organic chemistry playbook by exploring the use of special catalysts, continuous reactors, and “greener” processes. These days, however, his interest in process design reaches further upstream to basic laboratory chemistry.
“I think the whole road map from discovery to mature manufacture needs to be rethought,” Shott said. “I am quite interested in things like network analysis.” Applied in other fields of R&D, notably electronics and computers, network analysis is an engineering discipline used to predict interactions between components of a system or network. In drug discovery, for example, researchers are beginning to use chemoproteomic data to develop mathematical models for analyzing protein networks. It is a matter, he argued, of interjecting principles of engineering in an environment that is dominated by traditional chemistry.
“People have been talking about systems biology, which tries to model and predict every chemical reaction, whereas network analysis isn’t going to that level of detail,” Shott said. “It is focused more on the outcome, rather than simulating the interaction, and so it is intrinsically simpler and intrinsically cheaper, using data that are available.”
Shott sees the increased emphasis on data analysis as a revolution in drug research that will bring the chemical engineer into the process earlier. In drug discovery and development, “you have your classic paradigm in which first you have the discovery chemist, then you have the organic synthesis chemists, and then, very late in the day, you get chemical engineers involved,” Schott said. “But chemical engineers can actually be involved at any one of these stages. They’ve got the mathematics, they’ve got the statistics, and they’ve got the chemistry. If they are biochemical engineers they have biology as well. This is really a hot topic for me.”I confess (not a surprise) to some level of territoriality, but this set of statements really confuses me. I am not sure what Mr. Shott means, other than that smart engineers can help chemists do math (which, I admit, is not a strong suit of chemists.) Is that the difference? That chemistry projects need more mathematics to guide their decisions? I dunno.