Thanks to advances in medicine, HIV sufferers can now have a near normal life expectancy, provided treatment is started early. In addition, through improved therapies and diagnostics, cancer survival rates in the UK have doubled in the last 40 years. Improvements such as these and indeed all of modern medicine are dependent on chemistry.
However, there are still many health issues that need to be addressed. For example:
- according to the World Health Organisation almost half of the world’s population, 3.4 billion people, are estimated to be at risk of malaria
- anti-malarial resistant parasites are beginning to emerge and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis affected 450,000 people worldwide in 2012
- it is estimated that 1% of the world’s gross domestic product is spent every year on the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and the number of people living with dementia is expected to double by 2030
- cancer is still the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 8.2 million deaths in 2012
- despite advances in antimicrobial medicines, cases of antimicrobial resistance are on the rise; each year about 25,000 people in Europe die from drug resistant microbial infections, which is almost the same number who die in road traffic accidents each year
The chemical sciences will be crucial in addressing these challenges and many more. Chemical scientists will help improve global healthcare by improving our understanding of the mechanisms underlying disease, developing better means of diagnosis and optimising drug discovery and development.
Our human health programme focuses on two key areas:
- antimicrobial resistance; and
- healthcare innovation & drug discovery
Healthcare innovation & drug discovery
Drug design and innovative new treatment methods are vital in tackling challenges in all areas of health. They are our gateway to beating antimicrobial resistance, fighting currently untreatable diseases and providing affordable therapies to poorer nations.Read more on Healthcare innovation & drug discovery
However, over recent years, there has been an increasing acknowledgement that the pharmaceutical sector needs to change. The search for new products is becoming almost prohibitively expensive with the average cost of bring a new drug to market estimated to be $1.3 billion. Meanwhile, there has been significant revenue loses as patents have run out on important drugs.
Within the UK, a new model has emerged. Large pharmaceutical companies, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), academia, health charities and the National Health Service have come together to contribute complementary skills and expertise into a collaborative drug development ecosystem.
The Royal Society of Chemistry is working to nurture the growth of this new ecosystem while highlighting the vital contribution of chemistry. Alongside this, we are advocating for the need for new and sustainable funding and business models for medicines research & development in the UK.
We host workshops and conferences to develop cross-disciplinary collaborations and networks between researchers based in industry and academia. For example, our workshop, in collaboration with the British Pharmacological Society, discussed the pressing challenges in target validation, a key step in the drug discovery process that ensures the drug is effective.
Within a more collaborative landscape, there is a need to ensure that researchers have the necessary skills and expertise in drug discovery whether they are based in industry or academia.
We compiled a position paper that describes the changes that have taken place in the drug discovery sector and the challenges this presents in terms of ensuring chemistry continues to deliver in discovery new medicines.
We are also supporting skills development by highlighting continuing professional development opportunities and by supporting training initiatives such as workshops, summer schools and industry placements for students.
If you would like more information on healthcare innovation, this article provides a useful overview.
Drug Discovery Pathways Group
The Royal Society of Chemistry has joined with a number of sister learned societies to form the Drug Discovery Pathways Group (DDPG). This informal partnership is working together to establish a single representative voice on key issues and to develop solutions to meet the needs of the wider medicines research community.
What is the Drug Discovery Pathways Group?
Over recent years pharmaceutical research & development within the UK has undergone a significant transformation. Dominated in the past by large multinational pharmaceutical companies, now an ecosystem of collaborative research partners is emerging which encompasses small and large pharmaceutical companies, small and medium enterprises, academia, health charities and the National Health Service (NHS), with each contributing complementary skills and expertise.
The Drug Discovery Pathways Group seeks to establish a networked community of skilled researchers to help revitalise the UK pharmaceutical sector, to provide exciting career opportunities for world class scientists and to translate advances in biomedical research into safe and effective therapies that deliver benefit to patients and contribute to the nation’s economic growth by:
- establishing a single representative voice on key issues; and
- developing solutions to meet the needs of the wider medicines research community
For further background see the Research Fortnight article written by David Phillips: Big pharma is broken, how can we fix it?
Who's involved in the DDPG?
The Group has four core members:
- Biochemical Society
- British Pharmacological Society (BPS)
- Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)
- Royal Society of Biology
A broader group of around 20 learned societies and professional bodies are also involved in specific activities and work streams.
What does the DDPG do?
The group’s work has largely focused on three main areas; industry–academia partnerships, knowledge and skills. A brief summary of each area is provided below.
As the presence of large pharma in the UK continues to diminish, a complementary and sustainable model involving industry–academia collaboration with public and private sector participation is urgently required.
The DDPG recognizes that, in practice, a range of approaches are required to support these complex and multi-faceted relationships. The Group is developing a series of complementary proposals around key skills and researcher mobility. Amongst a number of specific models being proposed for industry–academia collaborations, some member societies advocate the creation of Therapeutic Centres of Excellence. For further background, see the Research Fortnight article written by David Fox from the RSC: Keep making the tablets.
Learned Societies are already undertaking a range of activities to provide easier access to high quality data, to support medicines research and to promote precompetitive collaboration. To complement this work, the DDPG has supported a series of precompetitive workshops in key areas of medicines research, including a meeting co-organised by the BPS and the RSC on Target Validation and a meeting on chemical probes, organised by the Biochemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
The general trend towards downsizing among large multinational pharmaceutical companies has resulted in a lowered training capacity. It is vital that key skills are not lost and the DDPG recognizes that there is a window of opportunity to retain and develop world class talent.
As well as maintaining a deep knowledge of their core discipline, researchers increasingly need to have a working knowledge of aligned disciplines as well as the transferable skills that enable them to function effectively across scientific, cultural and geographical boundaries. One way to support this is through continuing professional development (CPD). The DDPG will be working alongside organisations such as Cogent and the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), as well as with the CPD schemes in our own component Societies, to ensure that training, CPD and mentorship opportunities effectively address the future needs of drug discovery researchers.
A number of the individual member societies within the Drug Discovery Skills Group (DDSG) have created skills statements. These outline the skills requirements for medicines development within their each individual disciplines:
- Biochemistry Skills for Drug Discovery
- Chemistry Skills for Drug Discovery
- Pharmacology Skills for Drug Discovery
- Physiology Skills for Drug Discovery
- Toxicology Skills for Drug Discovery
It is also becoming increasingly important for researchers to move freely between disciplines and sectors in order to build networks and drive forward medicines research as well as to support career development. The DDPG is working with academia, industry and funding bodies to help establish a more 'permeable' environment that encourages researcher mobility.
For further background, see the Research Fortnight article written by Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology, Drug discoverers must adapt to a more complex world, and the RSC News article, Removing boundaries: Enabling the movement of researchers across disciplines and the industry-academia interface.
DDPG in the news
Representatives of the DDPG published a letter in the Financial Times highlighting the decline of the pharmaceutical industry in the UK. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) published a response to this letter.
Comments from Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology, recently featured in the Nature article AstraZeneca juggernaut heads for Cambridge.
The DDPG issued a joint statement in response to the proposed takeover bid by Pfizer for AstraZeneca.
Researcher Mobility Workshop in Drug Discovery 7-8 December 2015
The DDPG organised a two-day residential workshop for 40 researchers across the life sciences (chemistry, biology, clinical) to share their scientific expertise, expand their knowledge of drug discovery and develop new networks and skills. They were joined by over a dozen experienced mentors, drawn from the drug discovery sector including AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Lilly, Pfizer, Leo Pharma, Institute for Cancer Research, University of Birmingham, RedX Pharma.
A major focus of the workshop was a drug discovery challenge which attendees tackled in small, multidisciplinary teams, presenting their solutions back to a panel of judges. The winning team shared a prize of £3000 and the runners-up shared a prize of £1000. All participants were encouraged to apply for a Researcher Mobility Grant (worth up to £500) during 2016 to capitalise on cross-disciplinary and cross-sector networks established during the workshop.
The event was funded by the following DDPG members: The Royal Society of Chemistry; British Pharmacological Society; Biochemical Society with additional sponsorship from The Royal Society, AstraZeneca and the Drug Metabolism Discussion Group.
For further details, read the blog from the Biochemical Society.
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