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The President on the road: from the House of Commons to World Congress in Japan

Published: 12 Jul 2018
Category: President's message
By Stephen Hill

It has been a hectic – but very enjoyable – couple of weeks representing the Society, first in Parliament in London and then at the World Congress of Pharmacology in Kyoto in Japan.

My fortnight on the road began with the Parliamentary Links Day in the House of Commons organised by the Royal Society of Biology to build links between the learned societies and MPs. This was followed by lunch in the House of Lords with Hilary Benn MP, where some of our members enthusiastically discussed with him the role of basic and clinical pharmacology in drug discovery, clinical trials and the impending issues with regulatory approval of new medicines following Brexit. I think we made an impression.

In the evening we adjourned to the Royal College of Physicians in Regents Park for our sell-out President’s Lecture given by Dr Fiona Marshall. Fiona gave us a fascinating personal history of her career in industry pursuing novel drugs targeted at G protein-coupled receptors, from her time at GSK to Heptares, and most recently to the exciting new UK Discovery Centre for MSD Research Laboratories.

We were able to invite a number of early career researchers (ECRs) to both the lecture and the dinner afterwards, and I am sure they enjoyed the opportunity to meet Fiona and other senior figures in the Society. A clear message from Fiona’s talk that should have struck a chord with our ECRs was the need to ‘go with the flow’ as projects change and therapeutic endpoints need to re-evaluated.

The following day I set off early from London bound for the World Congress of Pharmacology (WCP) in Kyoto, where the Society Headquarters was established at the Brighton Hotel near the Imperial Palace. The next two days were spent speaking at a GPCR satellite meeting before attending the President’s Dinner hosted by Professor Shuh Narumiya, President of the Japanese Pharmacological Society. 

The Society’s exhibition stand was impressive and positioned ideally just outside the main auditorium. Thanks to Lindsay and Dave for organising the stand, the golf and the daily whiskey tasting, and to the whole Society away team (Jono, Kathryn, Anna, Dave and Lindsay) for acting as hosts, emergency travel advisors, and the WCP 2022 Glasgow advertising agency. The stand became a great drop-in centre for everyone passing between symposia and a social focus at the end of each day, with crowds gathering to share a drink and to plan their evenings out.

On Tuesday, our symposium on the Focus on Pharmacology project was well received by leaders in the field and was extremely well attended. Thanks to David Webb, Anna Zecharia and Lisa Wallace for brilliant presentations and to Jono for expertly chairing the discussion session at the end. I would particularly like to thank Lisa for her sterling efforts in effectively undertaking a ‘day-trip’ to Kyoto from Swansea to deliver her part of the presentation. The main messages to arise from the symposium were the need to champion pharmacology worldwide and to support our ECRs, who are the future of our discipline.

This was also a major theme of the meetings that Jono and I had with the IUPHAR senior management and leaders of other major societies. We are hopeful that a concerted effort will be made worldwide to champion our discipline and to improve the career prospects of our ECRs. In those meetings we also took the opportunity to emphasise that our society is a natural home for anyone with a professional interest in pharmacology.

A personal highlight for me was the closing ceremony on Friday, where Birgit Caspar (a PhD student and Society member from Nottingham) came runner-up in the IUPHAR 2018 Young Investigator Award competition. Among other lasting memories of Kyoto will be the torrential rain as the region was hit by a tropical storm, and the musical interludes provided during most symposia as the governmental emergency text alerts overrode the ‘silent mode’ on everyone’s mobile phones (signalling impending flood, earthquake or volcano – although my knowledge of Japanese was not sufficient to know which; in the end I scored two from three during the trip!). And I was struck all week by the warmth of the Japanese people towards us foreigners so often looking lost and confused! 

I have to admit that jet-lag was a major feature of the trip, partly as a consequence of the 3am wake-up calls to support England in the World Cup. I will also fondly remember the late-night Kyoto bar televising one of the quarter-final matches where beer was served in one litre cylinders and the impressive enthusiasm for the game of our Japanese hosts, even though Japan were not playing.

All in all, as both a meeting and an overall experience, we’re going to have a lot to live up to as hosts in Glasgow in four years’ time.

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About the author

Steve studied Pharmacology in Bristol and then undertook PhD studies in the Department of Pharmacology in Cambridge. After postdoctoral studies in Cambridge he was appointed to a lectureship in the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Nottingham in 1981. Steve is currently Professor of Molecular Pharmacology in the School of Life Sciences in Nottingham and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia. His research interests are the molecular pharmacology of G Protein-coupled receptors and the study of single ligand-receptor interactions in membrane microdomains using fluorescence correlation spectroscopy.