From lifesaving drugs to search engines: The Economist names its eight Innovation Awards 2012 winners

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Among the host of leading innovators celebrated at The Economist’s eleventh annual Innovation Awards, are the brains behind modern maps, anti-cancer drugs and private spaceflight. The awards, sponsored by Huawei and Astellas, recognise significant contributions across eight fields ranging from business processes to environmental technology.

The Economist's Digital Editor, Tom Standage, with this year's Innovation Awards winners

On November 15th 2012, The Economist gathered an audience of 200 guests, comprising leading figures from business, academia, science, R&D and government for the presentation of the awards at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Theatre, London.

This year’s esteemed winners are:

  • Bioscience: Napoleone Ferrara of Genentech, for his work with cloning therapies leading to new drugs that fight cancer and restore eyesight
  • Computing and Telecommunications (presented by Huawei): Jack Dangermond of ESRI and John Hanke of Google, for pioneering the use of geospatial data in software applications
  • Consumer Products: Gary Burrell and Min Kao of Garmin, for developing portable consumer GPS navigation devices
  • Energy and the Environment: Yet Ming Chiang of MIT, for breakthroughs in battery technology
  • Process and Service: Marc Benioff of for pioneering web-hosted business software
  • Social and Economic: Greg Allgood and Philip Souter of Procter & Gamble, for their development of a simple water-purification process
  • No Boundaries: Elon Musk of SpaceX, for his pioneering work in private space transportation
  • Corporate: Google, for its ability to innovate both in its traditional markets, such as search and web advertising, and in new ones, such as self-driving cars and augmented-reality glasses

Tom Standage, Digital Editor at The Economist and Chairman of the panel of 29 judges, said of the award decision: “The Economist's Innovation Awards recognise the dreamers and the doers behind the innovations that transform the world we live in. Through their vision and creativity, this year’s winners have created important products and services. Whether in household names or behind-the-scenes breakthroughs, their innovative contributions have become part of everyday life for millions of people.”

Speaking about the importance of innovation, Victor Zhang, Chief Executive Officer, Huawei UK, lead sponsor and computing and telecommunications award category sponsor, said: “Congratulations to all winners this year! We are very impressed by the changes that these innovators have brought to our lives. As a global ICT company that has around 65,000 staff dedicated to research and development, Huawei genuinely believes new technology and innovation are key enablers to enrich people's lives, and to boost the progress in different industries.’

Ken Jones, President and Chief Executive Officer at Astellas Pharma Europe, award sponsor added: “Astellas is delighted to support the Economist Innovation Awards for a second year. Innovation is at the heart of our commitment to improving the lives of patients by providing new treatments of the highest quality. Since our focus is on areas where unmet medical needs still exist, the treatment of cancer is clearly a priority for us. It therefore gives us great satisfaction to recognise Napoleone Ferrara’s achievement in furthering the cause of oncology through his work with cloning therapies. We congratulate him on winning the Economist’s 2012 Innovation Award for Bioscience.”

The awards ceremony formed the culmination of The Economist’s year-long programme of engagement around innovation and was streamed live worldwide. For more details or to watch the event on-demand please visit:
Notes to Editor

Press enquiries:
For enquiries relating to The Economist’s Innovation Awards, please contact:

Sarah Caddy, +44 (0)207 467 5820
e-mail: sarah(at)gongcommunications(dot)com

Anna-Louise Maloney, +44 (0)20 7576 8378
e-mail: anna-louisemaloney(at)economist(dot)com

About the winners:

Bioscience: Napoleone Ferrara, Cloning therapies leading to blood vessel formation and new drugs
As a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco in the mid-1980s, Italian-born physician and biologist Napoleone Ferrara was studying the pituitary glands of cows when he discovered a substance in the gland cells that spurred the growth of blood vessel cells. In 1988 he joined the San Francisco Bay Area biotech company Genentech. and in 1989, Ferrara and a team of fellow scientists there identified and cloned a gene for vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein that plays a critical role in angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels.

This work has led to two breakthrough drugs now marketed by Genentech: Avastin (bevacizumab), an antibody aimed at treating solid tumours by choking off their blood supply, and Lucentis (ranibizumab), which curbs vision loss from three eye conditions, "wet" age-related macular degeneration (AMD), retinal vein occlusion (RVO) and diabetic macular edema (DME). These conditions occur when abnormal blood vessels grow in or underneath the retina.

Computing and Telecommunications: Jack Dangermond and John Hanke, Use of geospatial data
Jack Dangermond and John Hanke pioneered the use of geospatial data in software applications and created new markets for maps and mapping applications.

A geographic information system (GIS) integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analysing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information. It allows users to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualise data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps, globes, reports, and charts.

Consumer Products: Gary Burrell and Min Kao, Portable consumer GPS navigation devices
Gary Burrell and Dr Min Kao co-founded Garmin (merging the first three letters of their first names) in 1989, with the intent of developing navigation devices incorporating global positioning system (GPS) receivers for the consumer market. The company went public in 2000 on the NASDAQ Stock Market (GRMN).

Today the company is the world leader of portable navigation devices designed for applications ranging from automobile navigation to backpacking. Since the inception of its business, Garmin has sold more than 100 million products to motorists, pilots, boaters, runners, cyclists, golfers, hikers, hunters, and geocachers.

Energy and the Environment: Yet Ming Chiang, Breakthroughs in battery technology
Yet-Ming Chiang became the youngest tenured professor in the history of MIT’s Material Science and Engineering Department in 1990. His research has focused on the design of advanced inorganic materials and related devices.

In the late 1990s Chiang achieved a breakthrough in lithium ion batteries upon discovering nanoscale metal phosphate cathodes. This innovation led to a new generation of lithium ion batteries with unprecedented power, safety, and life, in turn enabling energy applications far beyond the mobile phone and laptops markets served by previous lithium ion batteries.

Process and Service: Marc Benioff, Web-hosted software
Marc Benioff, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of, says his mission is to “destroy the software industry.” In the process, however, he has reinvented it and has created a fast-growing company that leverages new technology and business models and provides businesses an alternative to the traditional model of buying and installing software on their own equipment.

Instead of selling physical packages of software, uses what is known as the cloud computing model. There’s nothing physical to buy or install. Users access software via the web. The company charges customers a monthly fee for each registered subscriber that uses its web-based software and platform.

Social and Economic: Greg Allgood and Philip Souter, Simple water purification process
Dr Philip Souter was a research scientist working at a Procter & Gamble (P&G) facility in the UK, studying how to recycle laundry water to help with water shortages. In his research, he quickly saw a broader need: clean drinking water globally. When he changed assignments, he took his new passion with him, and when asked to focus on developing new products, he asked for and won funding to do still more research on how to make source water safe for drinking. Working alone at first, he went from a germ of an idea to a product within two years.

He developed a powder that when mixed with water could remove dirt, cysts and pollutants and kill bacteria and viruses. Packaged in small water purification packets, the powder is simply stirred into 10 litres of dirty water.

Then Dr Greg Allgood, a P&G scientist in the US, led a project that melded the technology with a totally different business model. He led a team that persuaded P&G leadership to distribute the packets as a non-profit venture by integrating the efforts into other global health priorities and making those efforts more clinically and cost-effective.

No Boundaries: Elon Musk, Private space transportation
Elon Musk, a native of South Africa, began his entrepreneurial career at age 12, when he sold a self-made video game to a magazine. He went on to co-found Zip2 in 1995 and, after selling it to Compaq for US$307 million, co-founded PayPal, the world's leading electronic payment system, which was later acquired by eBay. In 2002, Musk launched Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and now serves as both Chief Executive Officer and Chief Designer, while simultaneously serving as Chief Executive Officer and Product Architect of Tesla Motors, his electric car company.
SpaceX is transforming American space flight. By designing, manufacturing, and launching the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft, SpaceX plans to increase the reliability and reduce the cost of both manned and unmanned space transportation eventually by a factor of 10, compared with the traditional government approach.

Corporate: Google
Google is a US high-tech company founded in 1998 with a mission to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The company is so closely identified with its original function that its very name has become a recognised verb by dictionaries to mean to search the Internet, as in “he googled his new employer.”

Though sometimes not the first to offer a particular product, Google has proved skilful at innovating and improving upon existing ideas and applications. It is especially adept at acquiring young companies and rapidly expanding their products and services.

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With a growing global circulation (now 1.5 million including both print* and digital) and a reputation for insightful analysis and perspective on every aspect of world events, The Economist is one of the most widely recognised and well-read current affairs publications. The paper covers politics, business, science and technology, and books and arts, concluding each week with the obituary. Its website offers articles from the past ten years, in addition to web-only content such as blogs, debates and audio/video programmes. The Economist is now available to download for reading on Android, iPhone, or iPad devices. (*Audit Bureau of Circulations UK/US, July-December 2011)

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