BHF Alumnus Sir Patrick Vallance faces an exciting new challenge as the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. Before his appointment, Patrick was Senior Vice President of Medicines Discovery and Development at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Now shaping the UK’s strategy in science and technology, Patrick spoke to us about the challenges facing healthcare and how academia and industry are responding to beat cardiovascular disease.
The key thing in any partnership is to have common purpose and to be clear about what each side is contributing. The best system we set up at GSK is called Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc). This scheme makes some simple assumptions and has clear rules. It assumes that we will find academics who are deeply knowledgeable about their area of biological and medical science and will be working on a pathway that could be a target for a medicine. The process is to agree that we want to make a medicine together, and get an agreement on what needs to be done.
If a partnership is agreed, it is a partnership through to the medicine. It will be multi-year and, ultimately, will deliver money back to academia and the inventors if a medicine is made. We also encourage publication and, if the project is terminated, the chemical probes, etc. return to the academic. This scheme illustrates some of the features that are important.
Big trends in cardiopharma
Medicines need to be given to the patients who are most likely to benefit. Are we facing an end to blockbuster drugs? The answer depends on how you think about disease. As the definitions of disease change, then diseases become fragmented and so do responder groups of patients. This is most obvious in oncology but increasingly common in other areas. So, for cardiovascular disease, I suspect there is more segmentation to occur and the era of new medicines for mass primary care use in all-comers may be coming to an end.
The Government’s Role
Public funding of science is a key government role, and the formation of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is an important step. Science is increasingly interdisciplinary and many of the problems require input from diverse sciences. Many of the implementation challenges – for example in genetics – require engineers, chemists, social scientists and others. Government also has to think about the training and skillsets required to keep us at the forefront of science, which starts in schools. We need to make sure that science is attractive to people from all backgrounds and that it is well taught and well supported.
A health service needs to value innovation and be prepared to pilot new things quickly. It should also be able to make choices about which of the pilots are sufficiently important to need systematic and universal implementation. This requires a direct ambition to drive improvement through innovation, it needs money, and it needs a culture that values experimentation and innovation as a way to improve the average.
Becoming Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK
My new role, as Chief Scientific Advisor, is both exciting and daunting. I have a lot to learn about areas of science I am not expert in and I will be working across a very wide scope. A great team and a great network is essential. I believe that science is at the very heart of success for the UK and we must ensure that our science base, ambition and implementation is as good as it can be. That includes a pipeline of diverse talent drawn from the very best people, whatever their background.