Professor Robert Langer Jr.

Professor Robert Langer is an outstanding example of what can be achieved with chemical engineering.  He has had a long career as an academic, principally in MIT, where he has built up the largest biomedical engineering laboratory in the world maintaining over $10m in annual grants with over 100 researchers. In addition to his research activities which are widely cited and recognised throughout the world he has been granted around 1,000 patents and has been involved in 40 Biotechnology companies including several start-ups.  

This combination of world-renowned academic standing and world recognised entrepreneurship is extremely unusual. In addition to which, much of his research and business activity has been focused on novel mechanisms for delivering ground-breaking drugs to patients, to maximise bio availability and therapeutic power.   

He is the recipient of many awards, including the Royal Academy of Engineering Queen Elizabeth Award in 2017. Today his publications and citations give him an extremely high H index of 291 and Forbes consider his net worth to be $3.4 billion. 

Bob Langer has consistently focused on improving or pioneering drug delivery systems using a wide variety of technology platforms from lipids to polymer systems to wafers to scaffolds to depots to microneedles and quantum dots. 

He is constantly focused on unmet or poorly met needs that require better solutions to greatly improve patient care. He has mastered several controlled release mechanisms or stimuli induced release to greatly enhance measured dosage control in the affected area of the body. His enduring success in this field has provided enormous societal benefit and a good measure of commercial success as well. 

In addition to his impact on drug delivery systems he has pioneered tissue engineering in regenerative medicine (sometimes referred to as gene therapy). He has bioengineered synthetic polymer scaffolds to enable accelerated tissue, muscle and skin repair to seriously injured patients. 

Finally, he has worked on innovative delivery systems for Diabetes, an ailment affecting vast numbers of patients in the global economy. 

Photograph of chemist Robert Langer, taken at the Molecules in Motion Lecture, 2008-09-25, at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Source Wikimedia Commons, source Science History Institute, Douglas A Lockard

In my own career I have been actively involved in complex drug development working closely with other businesses and academics in a variety of universities around the globe. I have held global leadership positions in blue chip multi-nationals and started up, taken over or turned around at least a dozen small/medium sized businesses in this business sector. I have substantial experience and understanding of the value of business/academic collaboration and how this can deliver both transformational results and more importantly transformational impact on society. The recent pandemic has given further evidence of the value of this type of collaboration with the Oxford University/Astrazeneca vaccine not to overlook the parallel success of Pfizer/BioNtech. My experience allows me to calibrate the enormity of Bob Langers capability and of his amazing achievements. These achievements make him a truly iconic role model and a giant in the world of Chemical Engineering 

I consider Robert Langer to be an individual giant in Academia and at the same time an Entrepreneurial giant bringing his vision together with intellectual brilliance, unstoppable energy, and, where appropriate, financial resources to combine in harmony for excellent results and impact. 

He is a quite extraordinary Chemical Engineer who will I hope inspire others to recognise the potential of chemical engineering in dealing with the current crises of health and global sustainability.  

This story has been contributed by Past President Ian Shott