Professor Gavin Screaton, Head of Medical Sciences Division, University of Oxford
Innovation Perspectives is OAHP’s Q&A series with healthcare and research thought leaders. Here we chat with Professor Gavin Screaton, Oxford University’s representative on the OAHP Board and Head of the Medical Sciences Division. Gavin shares his perspective on research culture, why Oxford is a magnet for life sciences innovation, and prioritising inclusivity and diversity in clinical research partnerships.
“It’s important for non-research active healthcare professionals to be involved in research, and that our research culture enables this kind of inclusivity. Research shouldn’t just be owned by academics.”
Oxford is thriving environment for high-quality clinical research. What are the key building blocks of a successful HE research culture?
Thanks, it’s a really terrific place to work, and I feel proud to be part of this success. I believe high-quality research must be sustained by a positive working culture, which is supportive, inclusive and equitable. Here in Oxford, this includes conducting research to the highest standards of rigour, recognising the different skills and roles that contribute to research, and supporting the well-being and career aspirations of our colleagues.
We’re focusing on three areas of research culture activities: supporting research staff with career development; enabling researchers to conduct reliable, reproducible, and transparent research; and valuing a broader range of contributions to excellence in research and innovation.
What makes Oxford such a great place for life science start-ups?
As you’d expect, there isn’t just one answer. It’s multifaceted and begins with the quality and breadth of our world-leading, multidisciplinary research, which with the right conditions in place has so much potential for translation. Our close working relations with local NHS partners also helps create a facilitative environment for interdisciplinary research, which in turn supports the development of commercial applications of research, and new products and services. Increasingly students too have been supported to engage in entrepreneurial activity, particularly over the last 5 years, and this seen as a desirable career path.
Our environment is also part of the story. The University has a long history of technology transfer. ISIS Innovation, now Oxford University Innovation, was one of the first university technology transfer companies, and our researchers have access to a dedicated investment fund through Oxford Science Enterprise. And Oxfordshire itself is a hub for life sciences here in the UK, home to a large number of companies and a skilled local workforce, brought together through innovation spaces and many networking opportunities. I do however recognise that both commercial space and skilled workforce are limiting factors to further commercialisation.
The Oxford Covid-19 Vaccine was one of the most high-profile success stories for our region in recent years. What role did partnership working play in making this project such a success and what lessons were learnt for the future?
The partnership with Astra Zeneca was critical in our being able to scale up at speed the many key steps required in the vaccine development process. For example, AZ came with an experienced industry team that were able to successfully transfer the vaccine technology to numerous international Contract Manufacturing Organizations and distribute the vaccine worldwide.
A dedicated cross-department and cross-institution (University and NHS partners) COVID response team was established early and met regularly, helping expediate the effective distribution of resources. Coordination of research communications, research management and philanthropy teams resulted in a swift increase in flexible funding income to support immediate activity.
We were grateful to have a dedicated communications and alliance management teams to support these partnerships, enabling effective partnership working and assisting with the resolution of any issues early.
How can inclusivity and diversity be prioritised as part of university and NHS research partnerships?
Across both organisations we need staff at all levels to work collaboratively, ensuring equal opportunities for all. In particular, we need senior leadership to visibly and actively push this agenda, as well as advocating for and making space for grassroots interventions. It’s vital that our EDI actions aren’t siloed as discrete activity, but mainstreamed into all parts of our work.
Our research design and interventions need to work for all our populations, especially those demographics that aren’t typically involved in scientific activity. We all have a responsibility – scientist, clinician, patients – to work towards meaningful inclusivity. A notable example of this are the PANORAMIC and PRINCIPLE trials that have been actively engaging with diverse community groups and places of worship across the UK, in order to ensure that their trials involve those groups that are most likely to get severely ill from Covid-19 and thus benefit most from the research.
In the same vein it’s important for non-research active healthcare professionals to be involved in research, and that our research culture enables this kind of inclusivity. Research shouldn’t just be owned by academics. The OAHP Development Award Scheme aims to help by awarding nurses, midwives, allied health professionals, pharmacists, and early-career staff funding to improve and develop there clinical academic and research skills.
The Oxford Joint Research office was recently expanded across both NHS Trusts and universities in Oxford. What are the remaining unmet needs for streamlining collaboration across Oxford’s academic and NHS partners?
Within a constantly changing national research landscape, the original JRO teams from OU and OUH must both maintain those processes that are already aligned, whilst striving to make further improvements to the collaboration by extending alignment to the new JRO partners (OH and OBU), where appropriate.
A full suite of shared objectives is in place, approved by the Joint R&D Committee. These are reviewed by all partner organisations and updated on a regular basis.