Biomimicry: A strategic tool for creating innovative and sustainable consumer healthcare solutions

The Consumer Healthcare (CHC) industry is experiencing rising consumer demand for innovative products with predictable safety and efficacy over long-term use. Industry players have realized the importance to sync with major trends such as shift towards natural products, medical technology integration, and growing elderly population. Biomimicry can act as a proven natural system to develop out-of-the-box and innovative next-generation solutions across the CHC segments. Moreover, biomimicry as a platform has the potential to offer applications and benefits across the value chain.

Here our focus is on the business impact of biomimicry by adopting nature’s inspirations to provide innovative and sustainable solutions ranging from oral, skin care to incontinence management. These solutions designed through cross-disciplinary integration have the potential to overcome challenges of incremental innovation, sustainability, and consumer safety.

Fostering Nature’s Diversity for Sustainable Solutions

“Biomimicry is learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable designs.” Janine Benyus (Eminent Biomimicry Expert).

Biomimicry is one of the most promising research areas that could transform the way products and services are designed, manufactured, transported, and distributed. The edge for Biomimicry lies in taking inspiration from more than 30 million+ species and their ecosystem for creating products, processes, and policies that are well-adapted to life on earth over an extended period of time. Biomimicry considers animals, plants, and microbes as exemplary engineering models, and various biological inspiration levels can be used to identify application analogies.

The application of Biomimicry can be found in almost all areas known to mankind. The activity is predominantly at the proof of concept level, but there is rapid commercial traction across various industries. On the basis of overall scientific publications (patents and technical papers), a rising research trend is observed. Papers published in Chemistry, Materials, and Engineering are focused on underlying principles.

Mobility, Construction, Energy, and Chemicals are areas with a strong focus on leveraging biomimicry principles for the development of innovative solutions. Biomimicry offers immense potential for innovation in medical and healthcare segments, with already proven commercial success areas, such as cosmetics, drug delivery, skin care, and wound healing. Researchers in the healthcare industry are actively deriving inspiration by understanding the natural defense mechanism of an organism to come up with varied innovative solutions (natural, bio-derived, and synthetic) to develop successful treatment/prevention strategies across different health categories.

Potential to Impact Consumer Health Segments

Biomimicry solutions have been found to impact most of the CHC segments; the highest impact is witnessed on the skin, oral, and wound care segments as compared to others.

Addressing CHC Challenges through Cross-discipline Integration and Natural Positioning

Some of the key bottlenecks for commercializing innovations and long-term success in CHC space can be attributed to:

  • Incremental Innovations: Innovations are often of marginal value and are largely designed to cater to short-term benefits.
  • Consumer Mindset: It requires a change in the mindset from buyer to user.
  • Cross Discipline Integration: For CHC, products and services at the intersection of medical technology and consumer sector hold strong potential value – for e.g., fitness trackers, preventive care, and consumer devices for treatment of skin, pain, and However, there is a need to adapt to different thought processes and development cycles.

Biomimicry encompasses the potential to encourage cross-discipline integration and provide solutions with drastic innovative advantage (natural positioning), and at the same time taking care of sustainability and consumer safety.

Overcoming Implementation Bottlenecks for Commercial Success

Bridging the gap between biology and technology are the two key challenges for Biomimicry design process. Bio-inspired design faces similar challenges to typical product design, but the implementation is sensitive due to lack of manufacturing technology and uncertainty of business models.

Two commonly defined approaches for Biomimicry utilization application are:

  1. Top-down (Solution-driven/Biology to Application)
  2. Bottom-up (Problem-driven/Application to Biology)

Possible ways to circumvent biomimicry implementation challenges could be:

  • Develop a network of inter-disciplinary professionals with Biomimicry interest (for e.g., CHC players can partner with a collaborative group of Biomimicry 3.8 and Azul 7 for human need centered Biomimicry innovation)
  • Biomimicry specific business plan/product development framework
  • Access to case studies of successful businesses with Biomimicry products & associated challenge areas
  • Creation of a central database for identifying relevant bio-inspirational patterns (for e.g., asknature.org)
  • Systematic approach to solving problems based on consolidated scientific grounds
  • Dedicated Biomimicry innovation acceleratorshttps://asknature.org//platforms (for e.g., Biomimicry Launchpad)
  • Research collaboration with pioneer universities and institutes such as the University of Akron, Wyss Institute, Centre for Interdisciplinary Biological Inspiration in Education and Research (University of California), and Centre for Biologically Inspired Design (Georgia Institute of Technology)

High product commercialization activity is witnessed in the areas of skin care and packaging.

  • L’Oreal: Developing photonic-based cosmetics, mimicking the way in which light and color are manipulated in Morpho butterfly scales to produce pigment-less colors.
  • GSK: Launched a moisturizer inspired by skin natural structure; it contains lipids that are similar to those found in skin and can help in replenishing dry skin.
  • Packaging space is developing solutions from different vantage points (For e.g., biodegradable, edible, high strength, and color changing).
  • L’Oreal, GSK, and J&J have a specialized position and in-progress hiring requirements for Biomimicry experts (scientists and consultants).

Considering the pace of current research and development activity, the implementation challenges are expected to be overcome in the next few years. Being certified by nature for differentiation and sustainability, Biomimicry solutions is already poised for success. However, to leverage Biomimicry science, the designing strategic framework needs to be aligned with the current business ecosystem.

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