Pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical innovation have saved or improved millions of lives. Research published in 2019 suggests that the number of human life years gained from drugs launched between 1981 and 2013 approached 150 million1. A powerful reminder that new medicines have an enormously positive impact on humanity.
The international response to COVID-19 and the development of vaccines at pace has provided a further illustration of what can be achieved. At the time of writing, over six billion vaccine doses have been administered in more than 200 countries. There is more to be done, especially in low- and lower-middle-income countries and in Africa. Nonetheless, here in the UK, the public has acknowledged the pharmaceutical industry’s role in this success story. In March, an IPSOS MORI poll2 revealed that 60% of respondents said their perception of the sector had improved since the pandemic’s onset.
I suspect that even within the broad community of health care professionals, the key role played by pharmaceutical medicine, and specifically the contribution of professional pharmaceutical physicians working in vaccines and medicines research, clinical trials, licensing, and safety, is less widely understood. The launch of our new Pharmaceutical Medicine Specialty Training (PMST) curriculum earlier this year sparked an excellent opportunity to change this situation.
Next year, FPM will mark the 20th anniversary of pharmaceutical medicine’s recognition as a medical specialty in the UK.
This milestone prompts me to evaluate what differentiates the pharmaceutical physician who has completed PMST and secured specialist registration from their contemporaries. My thinking goes like this. The licenced pharmaceutical physician brings a robust ethical framework to a complex process that demands integrity and trustworthy professionalism. A pharmaceutical physician’s entry onto the GMC’s specialist register in pharmaceutical medicine provides parity of esteem with colleagues working in better-known medical specialties. The register is a public document. Inclusion is a visible commitment to the highest professional standards. We must not understate this. It sends a powerful signal that we are doctors above all else; our primary responsibility is to the patient.
The licenced pharmaceutical physician plays a crucial leadership role in developing and launching new medicines and medical devices that can change lives for millions of patients worldwide. Given the nature of the pharmaceutical physician’s role, many thousands of patients are impacted by our decisions. Society demands that the treatments we develop are effective are evaluated for safety and that the balance is positive compared to the potential consequences of the condition they treat. PMST equips us with the holistic understanding of medicines development needed to fulfil and exceed this demand.
The professional formation afforded by the successful completion of PMST, registration, annual appraisal, and periodic revalidation makes for a better pharmaceutical physician at every touchpoint on the medicines development pathway. The commitment of employers in industry and in regulatory and academic research organisations to support employees pursuing PMST is proof positive of this.
Our new curriculum offers a respected and convenient pathway to excellence in the practice of pharmaceutical medicine. I would like to thank the many FPM volunteers who played a part in developing the new curriculum and securing GMC approval. Enrolling on PMST is a great decision for the committed professional who wants to make a bigger impact on public health.
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Dr Porkess is the founder of the medicines development consultancy Actaros and Vice President-Elect of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine. She completed Higher Medical Training (HMT) in pharmaceutical medicine - the predecessor to PMST - in March 2007, securing entry onto the GMC's specialist register in February 2008.