AMS20: Celebrating our past and looking to the future

Our President, Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, explores what the future holds for the Academy of Medical Sciences on the occasion of our 20th birthday.

Find out more about our activities on our celebratory AMS20 page.

The Academy will celebrate its 20th birthday in November 2018.

When I look back at all we have achieved, I am very proud to have been involved, and it is clear to me the Academy has changed the landscape for medical science in the UK and internationally.

Our strengths are much apparent in the 20 impacts we have collected to celebrate our 20 year history, and it is with these in mind that I give a taste of where we are headed in future.

Before I look ahead, I must take a moment to thank all our funders, partners, contributors, colleagues, Fellows and staff. Almost all Academy projects are the result of multiple funding partners and contributions from our Fellowship, early career researchers, partner organisations and collaborators in the UK and internationally. Thanks to all who have supported our work; we could not have done any of this without you.


Bringing great minds together

There is no doubt that the Academy’s biggest strength is our ability to bring the right people and sectors together to advance biomedical and health science. The Academy’s FORUM brings together academia, industry, the NHS and Government, along with the charity, regulatory and wider healthcare sectors, including patients. With over 40 meetings and reports, and membership now up to 42 organisations, it was no surprise that media coverage of last year’s annual lecture on the immune system reached over 3 million people.

Our ability to bring sectors together is also essential to overcome barriers to translation of medical science into successful patient and population interventions. In the next year the Academy will be taking a closer look at the academia-NHS interface, convening a steering group to work with senior stakeholders across the UK to find recommendations for improvements.

The ethos of bringing great minds together from different worlds permeates everything we do, and can be seen in every working or steering group we assemble, and every UK and international event we organise.

Convening great minds from across sectors and disciplines will be central to the launch of our first major scientific meeting in March 2019. We will bring researchers working across molecular, cellular, computational, cognitive or behavioural neuroscience, spanning clinical and non-clinical fields, to focus on research findings about the developing brain in health and disease, and how future research could be directed to most benefit society. There will be a strong focus on nurturing the next generation of researchers by widening understanding of the field, and by fostering cross-disciplinary collaborations and engagement with more established researchers, industry and funders.


Supporting talent to flourish

Medical science depends on talented people, and our success in developing researchers to make a difference in the future will continue. Our new leadership programme, FLIER, is unlike anything that has gone before it, and in 2019 its first cohort will embark on an innovative, cross sector journey over two years. The scheme will develop leaders equipped to bridge academia, industry and healthcare, and to seize opportunities in an increasingly multidisciplinary world to bring improvements in healthcare to patients.

The Academy will continue to promote the importance of keeping our borders open to a free flow of talented researchers – science is a global enterprise and post-Brexit we must never lose sight of this. In the next year we will continue high level discussions to ensure that biomedical and health researchers can continue to move freely, and seek certainty about the future of overseas scientists living in the UK.

To achieve the best workforce for science, we need to have the best people from all backgrounds working together. We will continue to ensure that we are supporting and promoting diversity. We will do this by continuing our award winning programme to increase the diversity of medical research experts commenting in the media and by ensuring diversity on speaker panels at events and across our activities. In the past our focus has been on gender balance and moving beyond the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of Oxbridge and London. In the next year we will be exploring ways to increase diversity in medical science in terms of raising the profile of black, Asian, and minority ethnic researchers.


Asking the right question at the right time

Without doubt, a key strength of the Academy is to have the ability to ask the right question at the right time and to harness expertise to find answers – we have done this again and again throughout our history.

Our innovative programme of public engagement on death and dying will launch in summer 2019. ‘The Departure Lounge’ will create an innovative ‘pop up shop’ on a busy high-street where scientists and publics can connect to explore end of life research and enable more open conversations about how our aging population will impact on death and dying.

In the wake of new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implementation and following high profile concerns about the misuse of personal data, we will launch a new report and accompanying principles for using patient data for health technologies, based on in depth and deliberate patient and public dialogue.

As part of our Global Challenges Research Fund programme of policy workshops in low and middle-income countries, reports on global mental health, maternal and child health and diagnostics will launch in coming months.

Beyond our scheduled projects, we cannot yet predict what other issues we may have to respond to in 2019. However, from the implications of Brexit, to research regulation, new scientific advances and public health crises, we stand ready to play our part.


Sharing the latest and greatest in medical science

As a national Academy we take great pride in showcasing the very best of the science that we represent. Over the years our named lectures have been given by some of the biggest names in biomedical and health science. As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations we launched AMS Live to take that science out of the lab and into the digital world. This new programme trains Academy Fellows and awardees to give a short talk, with no slides and no lectern to hide behind - just them, their story and one big idea.  Talks are filmed live and posted online to connect with an audience way beyond the lecture theatre. I was lucky enough to be amongst the first speaker line up, and I know my talk benefitted hugely from some rather unexpected training from a stand-up comedian. The Academy team will be developing the event further over the coming year and AMS Live looks set to grow into a truly captivating and engaging programme.


Building a sustainable future for the Academy

In 2016 when we asked our stakeholders and Fellows what they thought about our work, they said that if the Academy did not exist someone would need to invent it.

It was with this in mind that we set a Strategic Challenge to enhance the Academy’s delivery capability, to make an even greater contribution to the UK and beyond.

Our 10th birthday celebrations in 2008 launched a campaign to raise £5 million to allow 41 Portland Place to become our home. The success of this campaign, and the effect of establishing the Academy at 41 Portland Place has been truly transformational.

At 20 years old the Academy is bigger, more mature and achieving greater impact than ever before. Yet we do not have the level of long term financial security we would like. Unlike many other learned institutions, we do not benefit from endowment or publishing income. Our favourable lease on 41 Portland Place expires in 2038.

I have seen at first hand the power of relatively small, unrestricted amounts of money to allow the Academy to initiate new ideas and in nearly all cases to leverage further investment from partners – the FLIER programme, Departure Lounge initiative and Developing Brain meeting mentioned above were all supported in this way.

For this reason we are asking our colleagues, Fellows and partners to support us in whatever way you can: through individual Helix group membership; through more substantial donations into our Development Fund; and/or through using your networks and insights to identify new funding opportunities and partners. The fundraising team would be delighted to hear from you.

The last 20 years have seen the Academy champion medical science and its translation into patient benefit at every opportunity. We will need everyone’s help to ensure we can continue to do this for another 20 years.


To find out more about how you can support the work of the Academy, see our dedicated support us webpage.

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