8th October 2012 Stockholm, Sweden

Medicines and modernisation

An appropriate issue to blog about on the day a British biologist, Sir John Gurdon, wins the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Sir John’s research on nuclear transfer in frogs in 1962 shattered the dogma that cells only develop in one direction – from young cells to mature cells.  He showed that differentiated or mature cells such as skin cells or brain cells still contain the genetic instructions to turn them into any kind of cell.  This discovery means that in the future replacement adult cells e g heart or brain cells could be made by taking samples from patients of their skin or blood.

Medicine and innovation more generally depend on breakthroughs like that.

We take it for granted that when we go to the doctor or pharmacy we will get the medicine we need. We hear of pioneering new medicines, which might eventually make their way into the clinics.  Things like Beta blockers, or the latest generation of flu drugs.  Sweden and the UK have been pioneers of new drugs driven by both our industry and our academics.

But the international pipeline for new medicines could be drying up.  Big pharmaceutical companies all over the world face the same challenge. Only a tiny fraction (5-10%) of all clinical trials delivers successful products. Those trials and the research which precedes them are hugely costly and time consuming.

So how to ensure that great new medicines continue to be developed? How are we going to develop the right conditions for pharma companies, large and small, to deliver new products, new jobs and investment?

Here at the Embassy, we’re doing our bit.

On 25 September I hosted a dinner for UK and Swedish life science companies, as part of a trade mission of fifteen UK research companies in Sweden to increase their business here. As a result they have already secured future business worth over £1 million.

On 26 September I had the pleasure of speaking at the Forska!Sverige event on life sciences policy in Stockholm.  There was a distinguished Swedish cast list, headed by Jan Björklund, with representatives of four other Swedish parties, too and lots of researchers, academics and other experts.  As a mere political scientist I felt very inadequate to the occasion!

Happily, I was joined by guests from the UK – George Freeman life sciences adviser to David Willetts, the UK’s Science Minister and Prof Chas Bountra , Chief Scientist at the Structural Genomics Consortium at Oxford. We set out the measures in the UK Life Sciences Strategy.

One of the key themes of our strategy is making the UK an even better place to do science and research.

So, we are cutting corporation tax.  We are cutting tax on income generating from patent medicines.

We are opening up our NHS to allow companies to come in and validate targets in the clinic, and benefit from NHS data.

Every NHS patient in the UK, unless they choose to opt out, is now a research patient, supplying their (anonymised) data for research.

The British government’s Nordic Science and Innovation Network, based in the Embassy here, will continue to build science, trade and investment links between the UK and Sweden in this important field, encouraging innovators to commercialise the medicines of the future.

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2 comments on “Medicines and modernisation

  1. Dear Paul, 1st. of all my honest congratulations to biologist, Sir John Gurdon, for winning this outstanding Nobel – Prize for medicine.But respect also to you for writing this important and – to me – very interesting report. Full of infos and facts.I.e., that “..in the future replacement adult cells, hearts or brains cells could be made…”. I do full agree to you that we all just go to our doctor and expecting and take it simply for granted, that he/she will give us the medicine, the drugs, which we need for this day or this month. It was also interesting to read that there are already 15 UK-Companies in Sweden in re. of improving their business-links to this Scandinavian country. Thanks also for mentioning this UK LIFE SCIENCES STRATEGY-link.It was very useful for me.To conclude my comment pls. allow me to add the following informations for I do think that they are remarkable: Since these Nobel-Prizes were established (Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, Medicine), in 119 times the winners came from Great Britain, 29 times from Sweden. In other words: In this so-called ” All-Time-Best-Ranking” the UK achieved # 2 , Sweden # 5.Isn ´t that great and doesn ´t it speak – as a logical result – FOR the quality of British products ? To fill up the “Top 5” : USA # 1, 336 Nobel laureates, Germany # 3, 103 N.l., France # 4, 59 Nobel laureates. BW + a happy weekend, Ingo-Steven Wais, Stuttgart/Cardiff

  2. Dear Paul,
    in re. of your proper report and my 1st. comment I just want to inform you that I ‘ve made some copies of this article and distributed it at the hospital of which I ‘m volounteering.
    Some doctors as well as many nurses also want to congratulate you and Sir John Gurdon.
    BW, Ingo-Steven Wais, Stuttgart

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About Paul Johnston

Paul Johnston joined the UK Civil Service in 1990, working for the Ministry of Defence initially. He has served in Paris and New York and has also had a wide…

Paul Johnston joined the UK Civil Service in 1990, working for the Ministry of Defence initially.
He has served in Paris and New York and has also had a wide range of
political and security roles in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in
Paul joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1993 as Desk
Officer for Bosnia. As part of this role he was also Private Secretary
to EU negotiator Lord Owen, and his representative on Bosnia Contact
His first foreign posting was to Paris in 1995-99 as Second Secretary
Political. He was Private Secretary to the Ambassador and latterly part
of the UK delegation to the Kosovo Rambouillet negotiations. Then he
returned to London as Head of the Kosovo Policy Team, leading work on
post-conflict policy in the EU, NATO, UN and G8.
Before his second overseas posting to New York in 2005, Paul held a
variety of other EU policy and security appointments in London, such as
Head of European Defence Section between 2000-01 and Head of Security
Policy Department between 2002-04.
As Head of the Political Section in UKMIS New York, he advised on
major policy issues for the UK on the Security Council and the UN World
Summit, including the UK EU Presidency in 2005.
Paul returned to London in 2008 as Director, International Security
for the FCO. He was responsible for policy on UN, NATO, European
Security, arms control and disarmament, human rights and good
Paul and his wife Nicola arrived in Stockholm in August 2011. Their
hobbies include walking, cycling, running (slowly) , playing tennis (not
very well), cinema, music and art.

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