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Personalised medicine (Part 2)


Personalised medicine (Part 1)
David Weatherall Scientist
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The other oddball things that I had to kind of do over the years, were again, I think as you get older, you get asked to do more and more about things that you know less and less about, it’s a strange kind of phenomenon. And one of the most embarrassing ones was this thing on so-called personalised medicine recently, which, well, not so recently now, which the Royal Society, for some reason, decided that they needed to investigate the, the whole concept of personalised medicine, and this difficult talking to a geneticist, but again, we had a nice mixed committee with some real geneticists and some pharmacologists and you end, but you always end up writing these things yourself, that’s the trouble. And it’s a fascinating problem because I remember the day, the first announcement of the human genome came, was made, a few of us, I think I was only there because of my welcoming input, but the, we were bidden to Downing Street to, for the big announcement, and we sat in the, we got the usual stale cup of tea, and then we sat in a room and in walked Tony Blair with a big smile on his face, and immediately on the other end of the room, this huge television screen lit up, and there was Bill Clinton, one arm around Craig Venter, and the other arm around Francis Collins. This was the kind of symbolism of the coming together of the, the kind of commercial end of the genome and the kind of public end of the genome. But what followed was slightly nauseating, because it was the time when the Blair’s were having their last child, and so the conversation really went on, ah, the wonders of this great news, we’re going to prolong the life of this child of Blair’s, and the assumption was, even if it’s on a bad day he’d live to 100, and, but, and what this was going to do, and of course, this hit the headlines the next morning, but there were, there followed an enormous hype and it, to my mind, wasn’t helped by some of the people who’s been involved in it, because I think they, what, they didn’t oversell the benefits, they oversold the timing of the benefits. It’s usually that wonderful 20 years, isn’t it? Within the next 20 years. I presume that’s because most of them are kind of middle aged, and they know they probably won’t be around to see whether they were right or wrong. But there was a lot of hype, and it’s interesting that in the 19- what, 2003 wasn’t it, was the fiftieth anniversary of the DNA. A lot of the meetings then, there was enormous hype. I was in one in Washington, and Frances, I usually get stuck on these things as the kind of miserable bugger at the end, you know, just to be careful, type of talk, but Francis Collins had had the press all week, and at the end of the week he dragged us together into his office, a few of us, and he sat down, flopped down like this, he says- God, we got to do something useful in this field. And he said, let’s go back to sickle cell anaemia, and small molecules. But I think the problem was that the, at least my perception was that a lot of this problem was that a lot of the work had been done by extremely clever PHDs, with no contact really with the realities of clinical medicine, and the medical people who were involved were very heavily driven, again, probably the brightest of the bright, but again, probably not people who thought very deeply about the problems of common disease really and biological complexity.

British Scientist Sir David Weatherall (1933-2018) was a world renowned expert on blood diseases, in particular thalassaemias, and used his expertise to help control and prevent these diseases in developing countries. He founded the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford in 1989 and was knighted in 1987.

Listeners: Marcus Pembrey

Marcus Pembrey, now Emeritus, was Professor of Paediatric Genetics at the Institute of Child Health, University College London and consultant clinical geneticist at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children London. He is a visiting Professor at the University of Bristol UK, where he was the Director of Genetics within the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children until 2006. A past president of the European Society of Human Genetics, he is also the founding Chairman of the Progress Educational Trust.

Duration: 4 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2007

Date story went live: 02 June 2008