Why the pandemic is a wake-up call to invest in scientific research

IN the days before the world wide web, millions of youngsters gained a fascination with innovation by watching a show which offered a glimpse of a future shaped by science.

Dr Ash Ramzan is the Principal Consultant at Woodley BioReg

If you grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, you will know that Tomorrow’s World was essential viewing for anyone with their eyes on a long term scientific prize.

The BBC TV show’s impressionable viewers included Ash Ramzan. Today, he is helping to guide the global response to the pandemic.

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“I was born and brought up in Huddersfield,’’ he recalled. “When I was a child I loved watching Tomorrow’s World. I was completely glued to it and wanted to know why certain things happen.”

Now Dr Ramzan is the principal consultant at Woodley BioReg, and he is working tirelessly with pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers on the development, registration, and approval of vaccines and treatments that could save lives.

Woodley BioReg, based in Huddersfield, is typical of so many Yorkshire firms which are doing their bit to fight the worst public health crisis for a century. Quietly, without fuss, Dr Ramzan and his colleagues are making our world a safer place.

“We work with some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world and are trying to address some of the immediate needs caused by the pandemic, including clinical trials being undertaken at the Royal Brompton and Imperial College hospitals,’’ he said.

“These aim to limit the need for people to go on mechanical ventilation,’’ he added. “We are working on three clinical studies for treatment where somebody has suffered from COVID-19.

“We are also working on a number of PPE development and registration projects within the UK."

Dr. Ramzan has more than 25 years’ experience in the biopharmaceutical and pharmaceutical industry and Woodley BioReg is involved in a diverse range of projects which reflect our changing times. For example, it is helping a manufacturer in Anglesey transform its business from a completely unrelated product to producing PPE.

“We have 15 to 20 live client projects in the world,’’ Dr Ramzan said. “We help clients register their products in the UK and the European Union while ensuring the safety and efficacy are preserved.

He added: “We are gatekeepers who carry a lot of risks in ensuring products are of a high quality and safe. One of the jobs we have to do is post -surveillance compliance.

“The risks and benefits change because of the condition. Every single drug is going to have a side effect. We have to constantly keep gathering data.”

Earlier this summer, hopes were raised of a breakthrough in the battle against COVID-19.

In July, executives at AstraZeneca, the manufacturers of the vaccine used in a trial at the University of Oxford, said early findings suggested it is safe and induces an immune response.

Early-stage research suggested the Covid-19 vaccine undergoing clinical trials at the university induces strong responses in both T cells and antibodies in the immune system.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot and Sir Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of BioPharmaceuticals R&D, told reporters they hope to deliver results by the end of the year.

Mr Soriot said the clinical trial had shown “very good results” in both parts, but stressed the need for patience and for further data.

Dr Ramzan understands the need for caution.

He said: “We know the vaccine works. Why can’t we get it? The simple reason is we don’t know what happens in a month, or nine months’ or 12 months’ time.

“A vaccine is designed to do something very specific in the body. The reasons for delay are down to the need to monitor its safety and long term efficacy.”

Woodley BioReg has 13 employees and 20 associates, and to quote Dr Ramzan, aims to “create an environment which is built around solving complex pharmaceutical development and registration problems”.

“It’s very easy to grow the business but the key issue is maintaining quality; after 20 years we don’t want to start cutting corners,’’ he said.

“A lot of the growth has been through our networks and word of mouth.”

He believes the pandemic will lead to long term changes in behaviour. Regular hand washing has become the new normal. It could lead to a fairer deal for Britain’s scientists.

Dr Ramzan also believes action is required to address the needs of an older population by securing medicines from lower cost centres around the world; one of his roles is to register these drugs and ensure they meet quality standards in the UK.

With the practical effects of Brexit due to become reality at the end of this year, he believes the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) may need to display pragmatism in order to ensure an ongoing supply of medicines and equipment not manufactured in the UK.

“COVID-19 has been a wake up call,’’he said. “I hope it is a wake-up call to invest in scientific infrastructure in the UK.

“There are scientific experts but they are almost invisible and end up as the poor cousins in terms of funding and support. Hopefully recognition of the value of science in tackling the pandemic will lead to more investment in infrastructure.

“Brexit will have an impact on the sector. Our business has been impacted so we will have to have a European operation. We can sense a potential shift of global drugs manufacturers to becoming more euro centric.”

He still hopes science really can dictate the shape of tomorrow’s world.

Dr Ash Ramzan, is the Principal Consultant at Woodley BioReg, based in Huddersfield. Before joining Woodley BioReg Ltd, Dr. Ramzan worked for Ipsen Ltd , the UK division of the French Beaufour-Ipsen Group, as a technical affairs manager.

Dr. Ramzan received his Ph.D in Protein Biochemistry and BSc. (Honours) in Biochemistry from the University of Liverpool.

Dr. Ramzan held a number of positions at Medeva Pharma, Liverpool, UK during the scale-up and manufacture of Hepagene, a third-generation vaccine for Hepatitis B which is currently approved in Europe.

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