GHP February 2017

18 GHP / February 2017 , For UK universities, it has been reported that applications from EU students have dropped significantly, which is no surprise. At the micro level of my own research developments, our partner company, MGB Biopharma, which is seeking to raise funds for a Phase 2 clinical trial of a new antibiotic that we have discovered at the University of Strathclyde, has found that finance is virtually impossible to obtain in Europe largely as a consequence of Brexit. New antibiotics, of course, are a major world health need but their development is subject to the normal financial and regulatory rules to which have been added the political complexities. With regard to academic research funding in the UK, there is a transition imminent to United Kingdom Research and Innovation as the government recently announced that Professor Sir Mark Walport is the Chief Executive designate of the new overarching funding body. This change in the current chaotic context caused me to reflect on the aspects of science and innovation, especially with regard to the scientific discoveries that have contributed to my own research that has led to several drug candidates. It’s easy to be hyperbolic in looking at scientific discoveries and project their significance beyond what is meaningful in scientific and practical terms. Typical of this might be the OH-2910 The Role of Science in the Well-Being of All People The political uncertainty arising from recent events in the UK and USA in particular is not just a theoretical problem; immediate effects are being felt by the academic and scientific community. common report in the popular press that a research group has identified a gene associated with a difficult disease such as schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s and has gone on to suggest that this discovery will lead to a cure. Such reports are usually misleading to the general readership because they’ve ignored the gap in time and scientific knowledge between the discovery of a gene and successful translation into a medicine. I’ve been caught by a version of this problem myself even after a carefully constructed and cautious television presentation; I received letters asking us to make our new antibiotic available to treat someone for whom no cure for an infection had been found in a local hospital. Significant science requires time to have practical impact. The particular thought I had in mind, therefore, was to identify what counts reasonably as significant and the time needed to detect impact. In published scientific discoveries there are several levels of significance that can be important. On the one hand, and at the level of detail, there are discoveries that specify methods of investigation or of preparation of compounds that we can use more or less directly in our own laboratories; this is an important impact for us, but an essentially private one. On the other hand, there are the substantial seminal discoveries that influence whole fields of science and even across many disciplines. There are many prizes that recognise scientific achievement throughout the world but the top accolade is generally considered to be the Nobel Prize. Nobel Prizes in science are almost always awarded some years after the original discovery because it is a specific requirement for the award that the discovery should have had impact over a period of time. Not only Nobel Prizes in chemistry are relevant to my work in medicinal chemistry but also those in physiology or medicine are important. Looking back over the last 50 years I counted more than 40 Nobel Prize winners from whose citations I could see that our work today would not be possible without those discoveries. There were discoveries in theoretical chemistry, chemical synthesis, fundamental mechanisms of biology, research instrumentation, and philosophical approaches to drug discovery. And of course, there is much more significant and impactful fundamental scientific work published in addition to that recognised by the Nobel Prizes. If I recognise these things for my own work, then the same applies to other scientists. This is trivial but important. Much of my work in medicinal chemistry is applied science but our academic work also contributes to basic science, most recently in the context of the immune system. Science done well and well understood by those in political positions is the best thing we have as a community for tackling the world’s pressing practical problems. In the churn of current events basic science needs to be well-curated and applied science well- facilitated. Both tasks are easier said than done but both must be satisfied by whatever political settlements are reached over the next few years. The pressure of populism must recognise that the well- being of all people depends more upon what international scientific discoveries can make possible than on a bare political point of view. K Name: Professor Colin J Suckling OBE, DSc, FRSE Research Professor of Chemistry Company: University of Strathclyde Department of Pure & Applied Chemistry Email: [email protected] Address: 295 Cathedral Street Glasgow G1 1XL, Scotland Telephone: +44 (0) 141 548 2271