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Our Thoughts

//NGP innovation: Nerudia speaks to

Posted 08/12/2020 12:00am

Abid Khan-Lodhi – Next Generation Product (NGP) Innovation Director at Nerudia – spoke to Italian publication Panorama about the company’s innovation philosophy, and the development process behind Imperial’s portfolio of potentially harm reduced NGPs. 


Read the original article here (in Italian, web browsers such as Google Chrome can auto translate), and excerpts below.

Panorama: Can you tell us a little bit more about your background, your role in Nerudia and how it’s evolved in the last three years?

Abid Khan-Lodhi: My background is in science; I have a PhD in colloid science. Prior to joining Nerudia, I accumulated over 25 years of international experience at Unilever delivering product innovations as member of Global Brand Leadership teams for several its €1+ billion Personal Care brands. My experience of building teams, delivering innovation, managing dynamic situations and navigating uncertainty have proved useful since joining Nerudia, where we’re immersed in fast-moving NGP categories and markets.

Abid Khan-Lodhi, NGP Innovation Director at Nerudia, has a proven track record in innovation. Image: Imperial Brands

In the three years since joining Nerudia, I’ve helped build the innovation team from the ground up. As NGP Innovation Director, I’m currently responsible for harm-reduced product innovation across Imperial’s vape, heated tobacco and tobacco-free oral nicotine portfolio, as well as creating value through our growing Intellectual Property (IP).

How important is a ‘start-up’ mentality to creating new vaping products, and what kind of skillsets does Nerudia employ to create Next Generation Product solutions?

The user experience when vaping has some obvious similarities to traditional tobacco smoking, including periodic usage, lung inhalation and ritual/sensorial aspects like the hand-to-mouth action. That’s where the comparisons end though. The capabilities needed to develop a vape product are very different to those traditionally associated with the tobacco industry, which is essentially an agribusiness with a vertically integrated commercial arm.

Vaping innovation begins from a completely different perspective with people from Factory Made Consumer Goods, and pharmaceuticals and consumer electronics backgrounds, as well as professions including scientists, industrial designers, psychologists, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and software experts.

In nascent and rapidly evolving categories like vaping it’s actually an advantage to start from ‘scratch’, and bring in the required capabilities and mindsets. These capabilities have not only allowed us to rapidly develop new products, technologies and IP, but also facilitate commercial opportunities in formulation and toxicology while helping ensure continued regulatory compliance.

Can you tell us more about the main fields of Nerudia research? It seems there is a lot of technology involved.

Innovation is about creating value by both doing new things and doing existing things differently. Creativity and curiosity is needed to push technological and scientific barriers, alongside experimentation and testing to realise any commercial opportunities that may arise.

Nerudia’s laboratories work on a wide range of NGPs. Image: Imperial Brands

Advances in technology have enabled nicotine to be decoupled from harmful tobacco smoke in recent years, providing an unprecedented public health opportunity for a billion-plus adult smokers on the planet to transition to a range of potentially harm reduced NGPs. We work across a broad spectrum of NGP categories, including vapes, heated tobacco and tobacco-free oral nicotine. In 2019, Imperial Brands – via Nerudia –  was among the European Patent Office’s (EPO) top 75 applicants. Our patents included particle science, optimised formulations and pharmacology – including nicotine delivery.

We base all our projects on detailed category insights in order to understand what adult smokers desire from their NGPs. The framework we use recognises not all adult smokers have the same needs, which means creating a range of solutions to provide consumer choice. Delivering a satisfying product, for instance, encompasses a broad spectrum of other physical and emotional benefits including stress reduction, enjoyment and empowerment. Once we have defined clear parameters around what we need to deliver, our product development and science teams collaborate on product concepts, which our industrial designers and engineers rapidly prototype. We then undertake a systematic process of evaluation that enables decisions on project progression, including how and when we ultimately market a product.

How do you combine the innovation with the safety of your customers?

Firstly, the innovation and science teams work closely together to substantiate the harm reduction potential of our NGPs. This has yielded a number of important and seminal studies, including our 3D ‘lung in the lab’ research that demonstrated, under test conditions, the impact of myblu vapour on human airway tissue was similar to fresh air – even up to 400 continuous puffs.

Products are subject to constant strict safety tests and protocols. Image: Imperial Brands.

It’s crucial here to reiterate that science underpins everything we do. We substantiate the harm reduction potential of all our NGPs through our Scientific Assessment Framework (SAF), a multi-stage, multi-year testing and research programme that tests and explores our products. Before any product is launched, it must pass through our SAF to ensure it meets our high quality standards.

For instance, a team of professionally registered toxicologists assess every ingredient we use in blu e-liquids, the substances contained in the vape aerosol and the impact of those substances on vapers’ bodies. We have a duty of care to ensure we know exactly what is in our e-liquids, and the effect they will have on the adult smokers transitioning to our products.

Secondly, all our NGPs are manufactured to robust quality and safety standards. myblu devices and pods are subject to over 30 safety tests, and are compliant with numerous product standards including CE certification, electromagnetic capability and other relevant EU standards, which every responsible manufacturer must adhere to.

People in Nerudia have many different backgrounds. How difficult is it to combine together all these different voices and ideas?

That’s a challenge for every innovation focused business, and in truth it’s not always easy. We have an incredibly diverse team in terms of skills, styles and experiences. Harnessing this diversity is fundamental for innovation and is ingrained in Nerudia’s culture. We place significant emphasis on training and ensuring all our team understands the value of diversity and inclusion.

People work together from many backgrounds at Nerudia. Image: Imperial Brands

Our purpose is the big driver. We have a clear and exciting unifying objective of creating NGPs that help promote and facilitate tobacco harm reduction (THR), resulting in improved outcomes for both individual adult smokers and wider public health. As a business, Imperial Brands is becoming increasingly informed and driven by innovation; we believe this is crucial to building belief in our NGP portfolio and sustaining long-term commercial success.

One of the main consultants of the R&D department is Hon Lik, the inventor of the e-cig. What is its practical contribution, despite the inspiration that his presence can be?

Hon Lik invented, patented and commercialised the original e-cigarette technology; his experience and insight into the category is a huge advantage to us. As a consultant to Imperial Brands he regularly reviews our technology roadmap and provides valuable insights into research areas where we might be moving too slowly, or sometimes too quickly! In addition, being based in China where a large part of the vaping hardware supply chain sits, he’s a useful ear to the ground, alerting us to any emerging technologies and products.

How vaping will evolve in the future? What kind of next steps do you imagine? In which specific direction the Nerudia research is going? Will products of the future be very different (in shapes, in functions) from the ones of today?

We can’t delve into too much detail as our R&D programme is proprietary. To provide a flavour, areas of interest include next-generation vapour technologies, novel heated tobacco innovations, smart oral nicotine delivery platforms plus sustainable materials and packaging.

Research and innovation is required to make alternative nicotine products appealing and effective for current adult smokers. Image: Imperial Brands

It’s an ongoing process but we are confident our investment in R&D will continue to help us scientifically validate NGPs with regulators, while helping convince more adult smokers to transition away from combustible tobacco. This will, in turn, help facilitate THR.

After all, if adult smokers don’t find NGPs appealing or satisfying enough to choose them instead of combustible tobacco, or if regulators and public health bodies don’t endorse them, this significant public health opportunity will be lost.

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