Sir Patrick Vallance emphasises the importance of pharmaceutical research in tackling COVID-19 during Society conference keynote

In his closing address at the annual meeting of the British Pharmacological Society, Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance reflected on the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and his personal ambition to fully embed scientific advice into government.

A clinical pharmacologist and Honorary Fellow of the Society, Sir Patrick also spoke of his fond memories of his “home Society”, underscoring the importance of pharmaceutical research during the pandemic and noting his support for continued investment in UK research.

Clinical pharmacologists have played a crucial role during the pandemic, and Sir Patrick recognised that “therapeutics is an area where the UK has done really well”. Sir Patrick pointed to the successes of the RECOVERY trial, praising the rigorous contribution of clinical pharmacologist Prof Martin Landray and colleagues to evidence-based medicine:

[The RECOVERY trial] has been as important in showing what didn’t work as much as what did one of the greatest successes was saying [medicines evaluation] must be done in clinical trials, get the data and don’t give into temptation.

Sir Patrick also reflected on what might be learned from the way research has been carried out during the pandemic, particularly with regard to data access, data systems and data interoperability, and asking the pharmacology and clinical pharmacology community to rise to the challenge as we “ask what [advances in data] means for clinical trials, pharmacovigilance and monitoring vaccines”.

Investing in the UK skills base will also be critical to maintain the UK’s leading role in research and development. The Society, with partners in the Clinical Pharmacology Skills Alliance, is campaigning for investment in UK clinical pharmacology. This small specialty is at risk in the UK - but has clearly demonstrated its value over the course of the pandemic.

In addition to the points raised by Sir Patrick, clinical pharmacologists are closely involved in advising the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as part of ensuring COVID-19 vaccines meet the highest standards of safety and effectiveness. Clinical pharmacologists are also advising on candidate COVID-19 therapeutics for inclusion in national phase II trials. Sir Patrick spoke to the importance of embedding research in clinical care pathways, which is something that the specialty has shown it is well-placed to support. Therefore, the Society is calling for cross-sector support for the clinical pharmacology workforce, for the benefit of future vaccine preparedness, healthier patients, better medicines and a more efficient NHS.

It is not just investment in skills, but also ensuring that people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to pursue a career in research, and to benefit from research - and Sir Patrick emphasised the importance of diversity in research:

This is central to the Society’s Vision for equality, diversity and inclusion in pharmacology.

Sir Patrick’s speech came at the end of a week-long scientific meeting, where several of the sessions focused on how COVID-19 had changed the pharmacology and therapeutics landscape in 2020. Delegates and speakers from around the world considered how the pandemic necessitated swift and dramatic changes to scientific publishing, education and study, research and treating patients. But there was also a celebration of how pharmacology and clinical pharmacology have contributed and continued in many areas, despite the pressures of the pandemic.

Sir Patrick emphasised the value of pharmacology and clinical pharmacology in helping the global research community respond to COVID-19, and its importance as part of a vibrant UK life sciences ecosystem.
To find out more about how pharmacology and clinical pharmacology have contributed during the COVID-19 pandemic, please read our recent news story and visit our COVID-19 news hub.

Published: 18 Dec 2020 in Society news