The PHG Foundation is a charitable policy think tank whose mission is ’making science work for health‘. Philippa Brice, their External Affairs Director, is a member of the UK Pharmacogenetics & Stratified Medicine (UKPGx) Network Steering Committee.
We spoke with Philippa to find out more about her background, her current role, and her passion for science and communication.
“I originally studied pathology, specialising in infectious disease,” she told us, speaking of her time at Christ’s College, Cambridge. “I realised during my PhD that everyone else hated writing up their thesis, they complained like poison, whilst I thought it was terrific. I thought ‘I should pay attention to this’ - that I still loved the science, but actually preferred talking about it or helping put it to use rather than doing the actual research.”
After working in pharmaceutical intelligence and “somewhere between science communication and science policy” at the Cambridge Genetics Knowledge Park, Philippa found her way to the PHG Foundation, who were looking to develop their communications as a newly independent charity. The Foundation was looking for someone who could understand scientific research but also communicate findings to a wide range of audiences, including policy makers, researchers, healthcare professionals, lawyers and regulators. Her current role is all about people – bringing together expert voices and viewpoints to understand issues and propose the best ways forward.
“At the PHG Foundation, our focus has always been on genomics and technologies arising around genomics. We're particularly concerned with helping to support and develop policy that will accelerate the use of the best science into public health and healthcare practice… The (UKPGx) Network is doing an amazing job and you can tell that from the growing number of members, demonstrating that there’s quite a wide community of people with shared interests and expertise in pharmacogenetics and stratified medicine, which of course relates to many different aspects of personalised or precision medicine.
"We’ve got a lot to learn from each other, and the more we can share, the faster we can advance overall."
"Precision medicine is a very exciting area, not least how increasing understanding of cancer genomics is enabling the development of new targeted treatments – in fact I think it is potentially starting to change the whole face of how we understand cancer and future cancer care, too. However, pharmacogenetics can also deliver really significant health improvements for a whole range of conditions. Changing how we prescribe quite common medications based on our individual sensitivities should have small but significant benefits for very large numbers of patients – all of us, really, since we all need medicines at some stage.
“We talk about precision medicine now, but often we use the term to refer to tailoring treatment not to individual patients but to “sub-groups”, looking at how we stratify patients into groups for whom different treatments or doses are most appropriate. Stratification can really transform how we care for patients. I think it’s going to start delivering in the next few years, we’re going to see real benefits.
“The knowledge about genomics is so fast moving that the PHG Foundation is always trying to help health policy catch up, and the pace of change is only accelerating. Making the most of this incredible science for health means that a lot of people with different skills and expertise need to work together. I think that’s the great thing about the UKPGx Network; a lot of networks of this kind are essentially academic research networks, and that can be very valuable in itself, but this Network actively brings together the clinical, the commercial, the academic and the policy sectors. We’ve got a lot to learn from each other, and the more we can share, the faster we can advance overall.”