What do gelato and small molecule manufacturing have in common? Surprisingly, quite a bit 

Hand holding ice cream cone

What do gelato and small molecule manufacturing have in common? Surprisingly, quite a bit

March 21, 2024

Using fun analogies to explain complex manufacturing

Delicious food. Fascinating conversation. But still, Christoph Pistek was a little disappointed.

He was in Newport, RI in October for a Takeda Research & Development leadership summit, to speak to colleagues from across our company about a use case on Artificial Intelligence for future manufacturing. At the welcome dinner for attendees, he craved his favorite dessert.

“When they cleared the plates and brought out the desserts, I was really bummed out there was no ice cream,” he says. “I’m a big fan of gelato, and permanently craving it.”

His focus on gelato didn’t end at the dinner. Back at the hotel, he reviewed the slide deck and script he prepared to present the next day. But his thoughts kept coming back to ice cream.

In small molecule manufacturing, he explained, there is a drug substance drying process that uses artificial intelligence technology to ensure the paste doesn’t fall apart or accumulate too much during mixing.

Picture of Gelato
“Then it dawned on me that one of the manufacturing steps looks exactly the same as making gelato,” says Christoph, who is our head of Sustainability & Technology in Pharmaceutical Sciences. “In manufacturing, you have a machine with an impeller; it scratches the paste from the wall, so it doesn’t freeze solid and needs to run at a certain speed to prevent the substance from falling apart. The gelato maker has a similar mechanism. It has to be monitored by a human, no automation. It’s a very delicate balance to have your gelato or drug substance come out great.”

The difference, he pointed out with a smile, is the cost.

“The cost for my ingredients for gelato is maybe $20,” he says. “The cost for the ingredients in manufacturing is a lot more.”

Things everyone can relate to

Back in his room, Christoph decided to scrap his presentation and wing it the next day.

“The script was science focused and extremely detailed,” he says. “And that night I worried I would fail to connect with the audience. So, I said, ‘Let’s rip it up and make it as simple as possible.’”

The key, he said, is establishing a relatable personal connection with the audience early on.

“Food and cooking are things that almost everyone can relate to,” he says. “If you start with something difficult and confusing, you’ll lose them. But once you get that first ‘Oh’ or that first laugh, you have them.”

Paula Gildert, head of our R&D Business Productivity and Efficiency Program, was in the audience for the presentation. She saw right away what Christoph was doing: using the process of making gelato to explain drug substance manufacturing.

“He struck the right balance,” Paula says. “He painted a vivid and relatable picture of a very complex topic, and he made it sticky for his audience by talking about something they could understand. That’s the power of analogies.”

Specific to our culture

Our centuries-old history, Christoph said, empowered him to change course with his presentation at the last minute.

“We have always been a company that has empowered employees to innovate in many ways,” he says. “In my case, I felt comfortable with an unorthodox presentation because leaders have shown trust in me. Trust has been part of the culture at Takeda for centuries. And everyone, from the workers to the health care providers to the patients, benefits from it.”

Picture of Christoph speaking

“Trust has been part of the culture at Takeda for centuries. And everyone…benefits from it.” 

Christoph Pistek

Christoph says he wasn’t too nervous making changes at the last minute because he knows the material so well. He is practiced in explaining pharmaceutical science to non-experts, such as his parents.

“I’ve always said to my parents to think of my work like a grandmother with an old fantastic family recipe she holds dear,” he says. “Only she can do it, and it’s hard to recreate in large amounts with little variation. Maybe you don’t have access to the same ingredients, use different pots or lack decades of expert knowledge executing the cooking process. That’s basically pharmaceutical sciences – taking a recipe and developing it to a state where it can be industrialized and safely produced at different manufacturing sites by a multitude of operators in high quality.

Christoph is already looking forward to the next time he is asked to present. But he also knows that he doesn’t want to be typecast as “the gelato guy.”

“I now know I can make a connection with my audience in other ways,” he says. “Lasagna is one of my signature dishes I make from scratch, so maybe we’ll go in that direction.”