1. Science makes the sparks fly for 3M inhalation specialist Phil Jinks
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    Science makes the sparks fly for 3M inhalation specialist Phil Jinks

    March 07, 2016
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    Science makes the sparks fly for 3M inhalation specialist Phil Jinks

    At the age of 11, 3M senior research specialist Phil Jinks was fascinated by fireworks and started to create and test his own based on formulations and designs he found in the family’s 1920s Encyclopaedia Britannica.

    Science makes the sparks fly for 3M inhalation specialist Phil Jinks

    At the age of 11, 3M senior research specialist Phil Jinks was fascinated by fireworks and started to create and test his own based on formulations and designs he found in the family’s 1920s Encyclopaedia Britannica.

    Science makes the sparks fly for 3M inhalation specialist Phil Jinks

    At the age of 11, 3M senior research specialist Phil Jinks was fascinated by fireworks and started to create and test his own based on formulations and designs he found in the family’s 1920s Encyclopaedia Britannica.

    • Photo of Phil Jinks

      These days his experiments carried out in 3M's Drug Inhalation laboratory in Loughborough, Leicestershire, are strictly controlled, but for Phil the excitement of a new scientific discovery that will improve the lives of asthma sufferers is as strong as ever.

      Said Phil: "My dad was a draughtsman for a local engineering company and used to bring bits and bobs home from work and from an early age I loved nothing better that making things out of discarded electronic modules. When I was 10, I was given a chemistry set and that was the moment that I fell in love with science.

      "My cousin and I used this basic knowledge of chemicals and experimented with a couple of different gunpowder formulations to make our own rockets and pinwheels. We used ingredients such as potassium nitrate and sulphur, which were pretty easy to get hold of in those days, and for the carbon used coke dust from the bunker that fed the central heating system. Although we were sensible and only lit the fireworks outside, I have to admit that I wouldn't be at all happy about my own children - Serena who is 17 and Dan who is 12 - making fireworks today."

      At school in Leicester, Phil took chemistry, biology and geography A levels and was torn between studying geology or a pharmacy-related course at university.

      He said: "I thought that pure science would be a bit limiting in terms of career choice, so chose to study medicinal and pharmaceutical chemistry. This degree at Loughborough University was a sandwich course and I got to spend a year at the Boots laboratory in Nottingham where I got a good grounding in tablet and capsule formulation.

      "I loved working in a laboratory, so when I left university my first job was working in the haematology labs at Leicester Royal Infirmary. Although this was a stop-gap job as my heart lay in development work, it taught me to work fast and carefully under pressure.

      A job advert in New Scientist for an aerosol chemist at Riker Laboratories, now 3M Drug Delivery Systems, soon sparked his interest. Said Phil: "I didn't know much about aerosols, but at the interview I loved the vibe in the laboratory and the idea of making new discoveries to help asthma patients. More than 30 years later, I'm still working in the field of inhalation, with 35 patents to my name."

      Phil's first patent for a new method of solvating beclomethasone, a drug used to make breathing easier for asthma sufferers, came just a year after he joined the company.

      He said: "The drug has to be solvated to make it physically stable after it is combined with the metered dose inhaler propellants, so I experimented with a number of different solvating fluids before coming up with a solution by chance. I cleaned my work bench with isopropanol one night and when I returned in the morning discovered traces of microscopic crystals that, when examined under the microscope, appeared to be a new form of the drug.

      "Using specific alcohols turned out to be a great way to solvate beclomethasone and this led to the development and launch of 3M's Filair press and breathe and Aerobec beclomethasone-based products. As well as being a great discovery for 3M, seeing a product through from the initial discovery to commercial manufacture gave me a great deal of personal satisfaction."

      Phil has gone on to make a number of new discoveries in the field of aerosol chemistry, including creating a solution formulation for formoterol, a powerful preventative asthma drug, and an innovative ultra-thin, non-stick coating for inhalation hardware, such as valves and canisters.

      Said Phil: "I prefer to be hands-on in the lab rather than working in a purely supervisory position and am lucky that as 3M values scientists so much I've been able to move through a career pathway that has involved both.

      "Working for a diverse, global company also means that I get to collaborate with colleagues working on related developments in the US and across Europe, leading to the cross-fertilisation of ideas. I also supervise chemistry PhD students at Loughborough University and have worked on a number of clinical trials to help us understand more about how inhalers are used in the field.

      "As part of 3M's technical community, I'm also able to spend 15 per cent of my time working on my own projects. This has given me the chance to play around with the inhalation coatings in completely unrelated areas."

      Phil adds that as a scientist, he believes in the power of careful observation combined with creativity; true passion for discovery backed up with scientific insight; plus the importance of never getting too attached to a hypothesis.

      He said: "Reality so often comes along to blow pet theories out of the water, but that's fine as nature is always right. I think it's key that as scientists we keep a steady footing, but are light on our toes and go where the data takes us.

      "Above all else though, it's about improving life for the end user. I have a personal insight into asthma as both of my children have the condition, so I never lose sight of that."

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