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Inventive Innovation: The Inventive Concept of Nyquil

The most exciting and unexpected saltatory innovations arise precisely because they are less a process and more a singular inventive event. True to Szent-Györgyi's dictum it is imagining something no one else imagined and acting on it. In a world of shrinking switch opportunities saltatory inventive innovations must be encouraged. One of the earliest adopters of organized inventive innovation was P&G. In 1952, just prior to its first launch into the OTC space with Crest toothpaste, P&G opened Miami Valley Laboratories, an entire research campus of 1,450 labs and offices dedicated to upstream research into its diverse business sectors. However, by 2000 the effectiveness of an internal long-range innovation resource was gradually replaced by "Connect & Development" an outward looking open innovation model championed by AG Lafley, Larry Huston and Nakil Shakab in the early 2000's. Thus, a shift towards an acquisitive model that has since blossomed across the sector. Many other multinationals have since followed. Nonetheless, short and mid-term product development must still rely on inventive concepts and application of new technology.


Nyquil: A Pre-Monograph Innovation of a Lifetime (1966-1968)



Richardson-Vicks launched its Vicks cough syrup in 1952. In 1960, two years after the FDA approval of OTC dextromethorphan, Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup emerged at Richardson-Merrell, the progenitor of Richardson-Vicks. Syrups were the long preferred vehicles for treating cough. Now defunct, the seminal version of VF-44 was affectionately called "motor oil" as it was a thick unattractive medicinal brownish liquid loved by many who sought "strong" relief. It is also believed that this was a standard practice to prevent product abuse. The 1960's marked the emergence of branded cough product lines, particularly so the Vicks lineup.

The adjacent common cold category in the 1960's next experienced inventive breakthroughs marked by the emergence of rational branded multisymptom relief (MSR) products. Contac® was trademarked by Smith, Kline & French in 1961 with its revolutionary "tiny time pills": visible colored-coded time released granules in a clear gelatin capsule each color containing a different ingredient highly suggestive of an ethical heritage. Soon thereafter Nyquil was invented and trademarked by Richardson-Vicks (RVI) in 1966. Much of the inventive credit for the Nyquil concept goes to the late George Hoffnagel and Chet Poetsch, VP R&D, working out the small RVI R&D lab in Mt. Vernon, NY and the plant in Greensboro, NC. In this era when colds medicines were solid dose forms they realized that a medicine to relieve colds could be a liquid containing a variety of ingredients each targeting a cardinal colds symptom — a novel concept at the time since liquid OTC's were understood to be cough syrups. Thus, a new segment of the cough/colds category was born: liquid multisymptom relief products for colds. The original formula contained: ephedrine [decongestant], doxylamine [antihistamine], acetaminophen [analgesic], dextromethorphan [antitussive], and 25% alcohol [50 proof] in a licorice (anise) flavored vehicle. A similar core formula still exists today as Nyquil Severe® however in the intervening 50 years the alcohol level has dropped to 10%, the decongestant has gone through several revisions, and a cherry flavored sku was later added in 1987. Not only was the original product design new, but so too was the benefit statement. Initial launch advertising stressed the importance of rest evolving ten years after launch to the familiar Nyquil litany of symptoms relieved "so you can rest medicine". This innovative vision of both product design and a novel, compelling benefit statement has stood the test of time for over 50 years creating a robust segment of liquid colds products still dominated by the originator. P&G acquired this innovative brand in 1985-86 after 20 years of success at RVI expanding its sales greatly.

What insights in the 1960's made the original Nyquil product concept inventive?

  • Colds products could be liquids
  • Cough liquids were familiar to consumers
  • Reducing symptoms while encouraging rest provides benefit
  • Nighttime was as important as daytime
  • A combination product might provide therapeutic synergies
  • Strong sensory signals of taste and viscosity reinforce efficacy
  • All common cold symptoms could be treated in one liquid product
  • Maximum dosing delivers strong relief
  • Rest benefits might improve functioning the next day

During this pre-monograph period Contac® and Nyquil® were the inventive product concepts that ushered in the modern era of rational multisymptom solutions to common respiratory problems. Importantly this transition from an era of unregulated and unproven proprietary products to safe and effective ones did not depend on acquisitions, but on raw inventiveness. Given that the monograph process would soon begin in 1972 these products would become important role models submitted into the coming federal regulation. Richardson-Vicks would spend the next 20 years working to insure their final monograph inclusion and compliance.

More Tales of Inventive Innovation next time….

Dr. Riker's Record


  • Wrote technical recommendation to acquire and switch naproxen OTC as the second NSAID to market (Richardson-Vicks soon acquires from Syntex; later branded Aleve, then sold to Bayer).
  • Oversaw the installation of the first in-house colds virology and clinical sedation testing facility installed within any OTC drug division (Richardson-Vicks/P&G); managed all common cold and allergy key opinion leaders and clinical trials. Proprietary data used to guide technology development and acquisition decisions.
  • Oversaw a 4-year in-house study of common cold symptoms leading to the publication of data supporting the rational use of multisymptom relief products in colds (Richardson-Vicks/P&G).
  • As Associate Director at Richardson-Vicks/P&G, prior to any category switch, managed all clinical evaluation of NSAIDS, non-sedating antihistamines, intranasal steroids and interferon as potential Rx switch opportunities in allergy and the common cold.
  • In a landmark New England Journal of Medicine article demonstrated that average common colds result in significant objective sinus involvement allowing support of multisymptom relief product claims.
  • At P&G wrote and presented technical recommendation for first-in-category OTC switch of an Rx PPI, omeprazole, to senior corporate management (P&G then acquires from Astra; soon branded as Prilosec; first PPI to launch in the mass market).
  • As Chattem's VP R&D & CSO rebuilt R&D and product development organizations to allow line extensions, acquisition of J&J brands, inherent Rx switch capability, and invention/extension of the Gold Bond Ultimate line.
  • The seminal visionary behind the emergence of TENS devices as an incremental segment within the OTC analgesic category.
    • Urged Chattem senior management to develop a TENS device for the OTC market [2004]. Chattem develops Icy Hot Smart Relief as the first branded TENS device to enter the mass analgesic market.
    • Co-founder, co-inventor and investor in Modular Therapeutx, LLC, a 2009 self-funded start-up devoted to bringing to the mass market an integrated, wireless and patented TENS unit to relieve low back pain (global rights licensed to Hollywog, LLC; Hollywog later sublicenses US retail channel rights to a major OTC analgesic brand; launched in mid-2016).
    • Co-inventor of US patent 9,764,133 [granted 9/19/17] claiming the configuration of integrated portable TENS devices controlled remotely by means of a wireless signal in order to allow for wireless activation and control of the device.

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