Over recent years pharmaceutical R&D within the UK has undergone a significant transformation. Dominated in the past by large multinational pharmaceutical companies, an ecosystem of collaborative research partners is now emerging which encompasses small and large pharma, SMEs, academia, health charities and the NHS, with each contributing complementary skills and expertise.
In response to the challenges and opportunities presented by this changing world of medicines research, a number of learned societies have come together in an informal partnership termed the Drug Discovery Pathways Group (DDPG).
The Group seeks to establish a single representative voice on key issues and work to develop solutions to meet the needs of the wider medicines research community.
A broader group of around 20 learned societies and professional bodies are also involved in specific activities.
The Group’s work focuses on three main areas; industry-academia partnerships, knowledge and skills.
Collaboration between industry and academia is vital to enable the translation of biomedical opportunities into safe and effective medicines; a complementary and sustainable model with public and private sector participation is urgently required.
It is 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.
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, 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.
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. To this end, a skills sub-group has been formed to address these issues.
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:
It is important that scientists in any specific discipline have a working knowledge of other key disciplines; thus the group are working towards a cross-discipline skills audit based on these statements. Interaction and close cooperation with those working in different subject areas is vital in order to facilitate effective meaningful exchange of data and information so that everyone may contribute to intelligent decision-making within the drug design and development process.
In response to the recent Pfizer takeover bid for Astrazeneca the DDPG released a letter that highlighted the changing drug discovery landscape in the UK and the effects on the science community. This led to considerable media interaction.
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.
The Group organised a Researcher Mobility Workshop in Chichely Hall in December 2015, which was built on the success of the similar workshop in 2013.
The DDPG, in collaboration with the BPS Industry Committee, are organising a joint symposium at the BPS Pharmacology 2014 conference in December titled 'Realizing the potential of new approaches to target identification and validation’.
A number of the DDPG societies supported an Exchange Fellowship Workshop organised by the RSC in December 2013. This event aimed to bring together current exchange fellows across the life sciences (chemistry, biology, clinical) to share their scientific expertise, expand their knowledge of drug discovery and develop new networks and skills.
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Research Fortnight article written by David Phillips: Big pharma is broken, how can we fix it?
Research Fortnight article written by David Fox from the RSC: Keep making the tablets.
Research Fortnight article written by Mark Downs, chief executive of the Royal Society of Biology, Drug discoverers must adapt to a more complex world.
Comments from Mark Downs, chief executive of the Royal Society of Biology, recently featured in the Nature article AstraZeneca juggernaut heads for Cambridge (£ - pay to view).