Robert Prud’homme named first recipient of Princeton’s Dean for Research Award for Distinguished Innovation

Oct. 30, 2020 10:55 a.m.

Robert Prud’homme, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton University, has been selected to receive the inaugural Dean for Research Award for Distinguished Innovation for the invention of flash nanoprecipitation, a method for creating nanoparticles that promises to improve the delivery of drugs throughout the body.

Robert Prud’homme

Robert Prud’homme

The new annual award was presented on Nov. 5 as part of Engage 2020, Princeton’s new innovation and entrepreneurship conference. At the ceremony, Prud’homme spoke about the positive societal impact of the technology.

The award recognizes an innovation led by a Princeton professor whose scholarly activity and creative thinking has led to solutions for an issue of importance to humanity. The Office of the Dean for Research, home to Princeton Innovation, sponsors the award.

Flash nanoprecipitation is a technique to encapsulate ingredients within nanoscale particles for a variety of applications, including therapeutics and medical imaging. The nanoparticles — which are a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair — can protect drugs as they travel through the body, target precise locations such as tumors, and allow for the slow release of drugs. The method works with numerous drugs, including biologics, which degrade quickly without protection.

“With this award, we recognize a faculty member who goes the extra mile to ensure that research discoveries make their way into the hands of everyday people,” said Vice Dean for Innovation Rodney Priestley, professor of chemical and biological engineering. “Professor Prud’homme demonstrates this commitment through research collaborations with industry scientists as well as through entrepreneurial ventures such as a startup to translate discoveries into medical advances.”

Prud’homme co-founded the startup Optimeos Life Sciences in 2016 to make widely available flash nanoprecipitation, which originated from experiments conducted over two decades in Prud’homme’s lab. The company, located near campus at the incubator Princeton Innovation Center BioLabs, is creating improved delivery methods for medications targeting cancer, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, and diseases of the nervous system and the eye.

“This newly established honor for distinguished innovation recognizes the importance of innovation to the University and raises the visibility of Princeton’s innovators,” said Provost Deborah Prentice, the Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs. “We applaud the powerful combination of intellectual depth and the desire to have a positive impact on to the world, two traits that characterize our faculty innovators.” 

Flash nanoprecipitation involves the rapid mixing of ingredients to create uniformly sized nanoparticles. The technique requires streaming a drug’s active ingredients in precise proportions into a specially designed mixing chamber. The method is relatively cost effective and can be scaled to produce large quantities.

“This innovation is especially exciting because it emerged from fundamental research that both advances science and benefits society at large,” said Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science. “Princeton is truly a place where curiosity-driven research can lead to tangible progress on real-world challenges.”

 A committee of external innovators and entrepreneurs selected Prud’homme for the inaugural prize from a strong pool of nominees. The criteria for the award included a demonstrated lineage of the innovation to scholarly research conducted at Princeton; the creativity of the innovation in addressing a critical challenge or opportunity of importance to society; and the potential or demonstrated impact of the innovation.

“Throughout the years I’ve known him, I have found Bob to be devoted to the service of humanity in all aspects of his work and life,” said Shahram Hejazi, an entrepreneurship specialist and lecturer at the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education. “His scientific innovations have been recognized by academic and scholarly leaders as well as industrial leaders.”

Prud’homme has collaborated with pharmaceutical companies and academic researchers throughout the world. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Prud’homme and his laboratory team have produced nanoparticle formulations for tuberculosis, malaria, fungal diseases and bacterial infections. His research has received support from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

“I am honored to receive the award,” Prud’homme said. “As the saying goes, ‘It takes a village.’ This award recognizes the quality of Princeton students, the collaborations with colleagues at Princeton, and collaborations with those outside Princeton who bring skills to the table necessary for translating research from the laboratory to the world.”

In 2018, Prud’homme received the Research Council of NJ’s Edison Patent Award for the initial flash nanoprecipitation patent, filed in 2002. The technology has resulted in nearly 30 additional patents and applications. Several of these patents have been licensed by Princeton to major life sciences companies.

For information about the more than 50 live virtual Engage 2020 conference sessions, including the award presentation and lecture, visit innovation.princeton.edu/engage.