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Steering Committee Profile : Eddie Blair

Dr Eddie Blair trained as a virologist at the National Institute for Medical Research and has worked in “Big Pharma” with the Wellcome Foundation, GlaxoWellcome, GlaxoSmithKline, BristolMyersSquib and UCB Pharma in a variety of therapy areas.

He is a Trustee Board Member at the Quadram Institute in Norwich, UK and is also a member of the UK Pharmacogenetics & Stratified Medicine (UKPGx) Network Steering Committee. We spoke with Eddie to find out how his scientific training and pharma work shapes his hopes for the future of medicine.

“My scientific background was as biochemical-cum-molecular virologist and I initially applied the techniques that I’d learned to pharmaceuticals issues surrounding the efficacy of anti-viral therapies. An example was understanding how HIV mutated to gain resistance to some of the very effective anti-virals that were available at the time, focused particularly on two gene products, the reverse transcriptase and the protease. With HIV protease, we were able to identify not just the molecular basis, but the atomic basis of drug resistance. We could see specific nucleic acid and consequent amino acid changes in patient-derived virus samples or in lab-selected strains. You could then plug these amino acid changes into structural models of the protease and inhibitor complex to then see how these mutations changed the atomic structure of the interaction between drug and target… we were looking at the atomic basis of clinical drug resistance. I found that to be pretty cool!”

I would like to see the principles of precision medicine applied to every therapy area where possible… to see “precision medicine” become medicine, rather than being a special category.

Bringing his research knowledge and many years of experience working in pharma together, Eddie has been an assessor for Innovate UK for a decade, involved in many funding competitions including several rounds of Biomedical Catalyst. 

“I’ve worked in this area for the best part of 25 years and certainly infectious disease and cancer have been therapy or disease areas that have very much embraced personalization of medicine or precision treatments, because you could measure something and act upon it, whether it’s a pathogen that wouldn't respond to “Drug A” but would respond to “Drug B” or it's a tumour that has high levels of a particular marker that make it susceptible to treatment. I would like to see the principles of precision medicine applied to every therapy area where possible… to see “precision medicine” become medicine, rather than being a special category.

“Another dimension is to see where advances in technology takes us? We have wet technologies like lab-based testing and also digital technologies like artificial intelligence or imaging modalities such as PET and MRI. I want to see these two dimensions of precision treatments and application of technology become key components of what becomes the normal practice of medicine. Indeed, this has become evident in the COVID pandemic; test & trace activities have been augmented by vaccines, some of which used the latest in RNA-based technologies. The lessons learned in managing the COVID pandemic will hopefully inform other healthcare decisions.”

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