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Thought Leadership in Extractables & Leachables Testing


By Jeffery R. Nelson, President, Nelson Labs

In October 2017, Nelson Labs acquired Toxikon Europe N.V., the European division of Toxikon Corporation. Shortly after the acquisition, we renamed the organization Nelson Labs Europe.  Based in Leuven, Belgium, Nelson Labs Europe is a center of excellence providing premium extractables and leachables testing services to the pharmaceutical, biological, and medical device industries.  The lab was founded in 1991, and quickly became the unrivaled leader in extractables and leachables testing—with a world-class compound database.

With this new addition, we not only acquired a new European laboratory with state-of-the-art equipment, but we also retained their exclusive database, and their market leadership in extractables and leachables (E&L) testing.  Now, as part of Nelson Labs they offer a broader suite of integrated analytical, chemical characterization, and microbiological services to clients through our network of global laboratories.

However, one of the greatest resources that we attained with the acquisition is the organization’s staff and management team with their unique expertise and industry thought leadership.  One of these great leaders is Piet Christiaens, PhD.  Since 2001, Piet has been the Scientific Director for what is now Nelson Labs Europe; he has over two decades of E&L testing expertise and is a world leader in this technology.  Piet travels the world helping companies and regulatory authorities understand the benefits and science behind E&L testing; therefore, I have asked him if he would be a regular contributor to our Nelson Labs blog.  The following will be the first in a series of posts from Piet.  I hope you find them as informative and insightful as I have.

Setting the Stage

By Piet Christiaens, PhD, Scientific Director Nelson Labs Europe

 “…and from now on, you will be one of Nelson Labs Thought Leaders, welcome to the team!” Jeff Nelson said to me, and he walked out of my office with a big smile on his face, as only Jeff Nelson can. That was the second day after Nelson Labs acquired our Leuven operations. Now, I understand team leaders, managers, coordinators, directors in every form and shape, Vice-Presidents, Senior VP’s, and CEO’s; but Thought Leaders? In my long career, I clearly must have missed something.

There I sat behind my desk, baffled with what just happened. I really felt fine with what I was doing before Jeff walked in, minding my own business, and had no ambition to become something more than what I had been for the last 25 years. Then this humbling experience was just thrown at me.

I clearly needed to understand the new situation I was facing; so, I went to Jos Bollen, my “partner in crime” for the last 2 decades, and told him what just happened. “Never heard of it”, Jos said. I was very happy I was not the only one. “Let me make a few phone calls to my friends in the industry, maybe they know what it’s about”. Half an hour later Jos came into my office and said, “I think I know what it is; it has something to do with LinkedIn. And, it is big in the U.S.!”

Sure, I knew LinkedIn, that website that always made me “accept” things. Always pushing the accept button, day in and day out. Strange concept for a website, I thought, but never gave it any further reflection. I once wondered why they did not call that site Accept-In.  I went on the LinkedIn website to understand what thought leadership was and how they could help me figure this out. I saw all kinds of things, from Steve Jobs who told us that we need to hire smarter people so they can tell us what to do (how could he have known?), to advice from a third grade dropout, and all kinds of other lessons in life and management.  All inspiring, but what did it have to do with my new mission of being a Thought Leader? I realized that it would not be an easy path going forward.

Almost panicking now, I called my wife and told her what just happened to me. “See,” she said,” you think too much, I always told you that! And that is what Jeff Nelson immediately observed, he must be good with people!”  “But Jeff made it sound like a good thing” I fought back, now fully in the dark. “You know those U.S. people,” she replied, “they are champions at bringing difficult messages in the most positive way!”  I decided to give it some rest and tried to find a meeting I could join to bring back some peace of mind.

That helped. During the meeting, I had the bright idea to Google “Thought Leadership for Dummies.” I waited until the meeting was over, ran back to my office, closed my door, and secretly continued my search for answers. After reading through my web search results, I understood more of what was heading my way. I needed to work on articles, white papers, presentations, seminars, training sessions, opinion pieces, blogs and the like. Now it was clear, for me thought leadership was another name for overachievers. At Nelson Labs, they must have a group of people, all suffering from a constant desire to do more, and in the spirit of positive thinking, they call this group Thought Leaders! I was not sure if I needed to take this as a compliment or as something that I needed to “find a solution for.”

Since then, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. It took me some time to get my arms around this idea, but I slowly became acquainted with what it means to be a Thought Leader.  That is why, after a lot of encouragement from our marketing team, I have decided to start posting my scientific thoughts on this blog.

As I am a one-trick pony, I will write my blogs about Extractables & Leachables (E&L) for Pharmaceutical Packaging Systems and Chemical Characterization for Medical Devices. E&L is a new science, a new discipline, and although we, at the Nelson Labs Europe facility in Leuven, Belgium, have been working in the field for almost 20 years, we are still learning new things every day.

In those first 20 years, we learned a lot. Let me put it this way, every mistake you could ever imagine that could be made in E&L science, we made it. With this confession, I know that the Nelson Labs marketing team will love me for my candor—admitting our imperfections.  However, as a Thought Leader, you need to have freedom of speech from time to time.  If you want to address certain issues in E&L testing and try to explain where we want to go with “good science,” you have to be ready to admit that there was a time you made all those mistakes yourself–yet, out of chaos, we created order and achieved success.

To my dear Nelson Labs marketing team, I want to apologize upfront. My blog posts will be rather unpolished and will not always follow the strict rules of Marketing Communications, as I am a scientist not a marketer. However, the intention of these posts is to guide the business and other E&L practitioners to “good science” in Extractables & Leachables research.

Being strongly encouraged by Jeff Nelson and the marketing team to become a Thought Leader, I guess it is my prerogative to write in this open and candid manner. Therefore, I will start with this post!

Check back for my next post coming soon.