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Innovation in Immunology 2019

What does immunology need to succeed?

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Dr Doug Brown

Chief Executive, British Society For Immunology

Immunology is at the cutting-edge of our knowledge of how the body works. But how can we create the right environment to allow immunology research to thrive and translate into life-changing impact for patients?


The field of immunology is expanding at a significant rate, spreading its influence into many new disciplines and helping us better understand how our bodies function in health and disease.

The Government’s aim to increase spending on research to 2.4% GDP by 2027, highlights immunology as a key player in the life sciences sector. As one of the UK’s research strengths, this growth is only set to continue.

The drive for immunology knowledge and application is thriving and we need to seize this opportunity to think innovatively. How we can create the right environment in terms of infrastructure, investment and skills to realise the benefits for human health? And how can we secure inward investment into the UK from biotech and pharma?

At the British Society for Immunology, we are a central force to create that environment. As the largest immunological society in Europe, we are bringing together different players to galvanise the community, build collaborations and provide the supporting infrastructure to allow the research effort to be stepped up.

Connecting immune research and removing silos

One exciting new approach we’re taking is via Connect Immune Research, a novel collaboration between four organisations working in the autoimmunity space – JDRF, MS Society, Versus Arthritis and ourselves. This initiative brings together researchers with different expertise to examine the mechanisms of autoimmunity in a non-condition-specific way. We aim to change the traditional approach to how autoimmune conditions are researched to allow the science to progress faster.

With the recent advent of cancer immunotherapies, there is a lot more we can do to facilitate skills and knowledge transfer between the cancer and immunology fields in both medical and research communities.

Collaboration – and eschewing working in disease silos –  aims to increase the visibility of autoimmunity in public and scientific debate. We hope to create funding streams to support cross-disease research and bring about positive change to the lives of people living with these conditions.

Collaborating to defeat cancer

Another approach we are taking is off the back of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry recently citing immunology as a key research area where there is a skills gap.1

With the recent advent of cancer immunotherapies, there is a lot more we can do to facilitate skills and knowledge transfer between the cancer and immunology fields in both medical and research communities.

Our new, ground-breaking collaboration with the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) is going to transform how the immunology research community and cancer scientists and clinicians integrate. It will drive new collaborations that address challenges in immunotherapy, as well as advancing understanding of the interaction between the immune system and cancer.

Through several different initiatives, such as training courses and interdisciplinary workshops, we hope to facilitate dialogue between the two communities to speed up discovery in the clinical research space. Improved communication will increase the number of cancers that can be targeted through immunotherapy as well as aiding clinician knowledge on recent breakthroughs in our understanding of how the immune system functions in different cancer types.

Enabling research to thrive

Immunology is such an exciting field to work in, with a rich pipeline of biological agents now making the transition from bench to bedside. By working with partners and supporting the underlying infrastructure of the sector, the British Society for Immunology hopes to facilitate an environment where new research endeavours can thrive, progress and translate into life-changing impact for patients.


1: Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry 2019 Bridging the skills gap in the biopharmaceutical industry: maintaining the UK’s leading position in the life sciences

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