Robert K. Prud’homme, who has devoted his expertise in chemical engineering to the delivery of treatments for some of the world’s most devastating diseases, has been named a fellow of the 2022 class of the National Academy of Inventors.
Prud’homme, a professor of chemical and biological engineering, called the honor a capstone to his body of research.
“As an engineer, what you want to do is take your ideas, your technology, and have an impact on society. With the patents we have pursued over these years, the goal is to take our ideas and make them in a form that industry will find useful,” said Prud’homme, who has received over 100 patents in his career.
Over more than 20 years, Prud’homme and his team have developed an innovative Flash NanoPrecipitation (FNP) technique that has made a significant impact on drug manufacturing and has been adopted globally to produce inexpensive and highly stable medicines, especially useful for the developing world. Prud’homme’s work has advanced treatments for malaria, toxoplasmosis, diarrhea, tuberculosis and more. The FNP process is a foundational technique for manufacturing the current COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.
Prud’homme has worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation so his technology can be adapted for global health initiatives. He has also collaborated with Pfizer, Genentech, Merck, GSK, Johnson and Johnson Janssen, Eli Lilly and other top pharmaceutical companies.
Prud’homme said the adoption of FNP to produce COVID vaccines has been the most impactful outcome of his team’s research. “Therefore, it is tremendously satisfying to myself and the generations of students who developed this technology to see it in pharmaceutical production,” he said. The global health work, especially on anti-malaria medicine, is also incredibly rewarding. “That’s exciting too, to be able to reach past our first-world economies and to have impact in less-resourced communities,” he said.
The 169 fellows in the 2022 cohort collectively hold more than 5,000 issued U.S. patents, and they hail from 110 research universities, governmental and nonprofit research institutions worldwide.
The new class of NAI fellows includes members of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and other prestigious organizations; Nobel Laureates; as well as senior leadership from universities and research institutions. The fellows’ body of research and entrepreneurship covers a broad range of scientific disciplines involved with technology transfer of their inventions for the benefit of society.
“This year’s class of NAI fellows represents a truly outstanding caliber of inventors. Each of these individuals have made significant impact through their work and are highly regarded in their respective fields,” said Dr. Paul R. Sanberg, president of the NAI. “The breadth and scope of their inventions is truly staggering. I am excited to see their creativity continue to define a new era of science and technology in the global innovation ecosystem.”
Reflecting on the word inventor, Prud’homme said he doesn’t consider it to mean scientific discovery, solely.
“There’s a continuum between science, which is trying to discover new phenomena or understand phenomena in nature, and then there is engineering, which hopes to take that understanding of science and translate it to useful technologies that will impact society,” he said. “Invention is somewhere between those two; where you are taking new understanding and deciding how it can be made to have technological application. That to me is invention – it’s somewhere between pure science, and the manufacturing or implementation of that technology.”
Prud’homme said the award belongs not only to him but all the students and postdocs who have worked on the research. “It really is a tribute to them. My group has always worked as a team, so it’s never one person’s contribution. It’s all of us working on this that has enabled the progress we have made,” he said.
Prud’homme has also received the 2022 Nanoscale Science and Engineering Forum Award from the American Institute for Chemical Engineers. In 2020, Prud’homme received the inaugural Princeton Dean for Research Award for Distinguished Innovation, and in 2018 he was awarded the Research Council of NJ’s Edison Patent Award for the original 2002 invention.
The 2022 NAI fellows will be honored and presented their medals at the 12th annual meeting of the National Academy of Inventors on June 27 in Washington, D.C.