The Chief Executive of Orthopaedic Research UK tells Pound Sterling Live how Brexit has shaken the medical research community into a new direction - and it could well be for the best.
2016 has seen a spotlight shone on medical research funding as the question of the future of funding suddenly became relevant following the vote to leave the EU.
Research by The Royal Society has shown that the UK contributes more overall to the EU budget than it receives. However, the UK is one of the largest recipients of research funding in the EU: it receives a greater amount of EU funding for research and development than the proportion of its contribution analyses suggests is earmarked for this.
Therefore this is a complex landscape and the vote to leave the EU will certainly have prompted anxiety in the sector.
While the Chancellor Philip Hammond has guaranteed to match EU funding the impact on the future of the sector has been more extensive.
But for Dr. Arash Angadji, Chief Executive of Orthopaedic Research UK, it is hoped Brexit will stimulate both innovation and collaboration among the entries he sees for research grants.
“Essentially it’s a competition. I think the lack of funding is a real possibility once Article 50 is triggered, that will force people to compete for funding, and the only way they will be entitled to the grants is if they can show that they are working with others. Be it patients, entrepreneurs or business. They have to collaborate to survive,” says Angadji.
For Angadji, Brexit isn’t just a revolution, it’s a sea change.
When he took over as Chief Executive back in January he began considering making changes to his process.
“Currently, our scientific advisory committee comprises of only scientists and clinicians. In my view we need to bring in patients, innovation experts, entrepreneurs, credible researchers and more. After all, the scientist might say it’s fantastic but for the patient perhaps it won’t fix their day-to-day issue.”
But it’s not just a grant problem, it seems as though keen, young, bright scientists are losing their way when it comes to staying in the field of research and academia.
Angadji explains, “For most it’s a tick box exercise, they do their PhD and then the bank balances of Canary Wharf sway them away.
“According to the Royal Society only 3.5% of PhD graduates will carry on having permanent roles in academia, less than 0.5% will go on to be Professors. After all how many PHD theses are sat at home gathering dust on a book shelf. So I have to wonder if I’m wasting my funding?”
Angadji hopes that a renewed sense of competition will encourage further collaboration and wants to see more entrepreneurs and start-ups helping young scientists with their ideas.
He says, “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to worry about patents; I know that by working together we could bring innovative treatments closer. What is ten years away could only be 5 years away if only we would work together.”
He highlights the recent collaboration between American pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer and UK charity Breast Cancer Now who have recently joined forces to launch a catalyst programme funding advance research.
Angadji is supportive, “some would say they’ve sold their soul to the devil in receiving $15m in grant funding, but I think good for them – is this the future of research?”
“Universities are certainly part of the problem, they encourage the system.” He goes on. “Pushing students in to further academic roles when really, there aren’t enough grants out there for everyone. They need to decide what they would like to do at a younger age and be given the tools to meet the right people to make that happen. Entrepreneurs, industrialists, patients – they all need to work together.”
But Angadji is sure if Brexit hadn’t have happened then we wouldn’t be having this same conversation.
He says, “This is my passion, I understand the research process as I have a research background but I also understand the patients. It is coincidental that Brexit happened and Trump was elected the year I became Chief Executive – what a year!”
“I believe we have been presented an opportunity. If Brexit didn't happen people perhaps wouldn’t buy in to the new strategy I’m suggesting nearly as much as they are paying attention to it now. Our vision is to eliminate bone and joint disease from the world. And in the meantime, for patients to live without pain and achieve the highest quality of life.”
However, there is one spoke that could potentially scupper his plans, that is the subject of foreign labour. He says, “I think what we’re suffering is loss of talent and we need to address that urgently. With Article 50 being triggered there is talk of European talent leaving the country, put simply, our labs will be drained. If you haven’t got people to operate those machines then effectively you won’t be able to continue as you don’t have the best people. It would have a knock on effect. There needs to be some element of talent retention in the exit strategy.”
As long as this issue could be addressed, the sky is the limit for Angadji. Next on his list is to draw up a new scientific advisory committee, ready for the innovative new ideas and collaborations that he is sure will be heading his way once funding levels begin to feel a squeeze. And he’s excited by what that combination could produce.