Your Path in Research: A pharmacist's journey
As part of the NIHR Your Path in Research campaign – which supports health care professionals to get more involved in research – Dr Beatriz Duran Jimenez, Consultant Pharmacist at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), shares her story.
I’m a Consultant Pharmacist in clinical trials and Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMPs), a new role nationally and in our Trust. I'm currently responsible for the MFT Pharmacy Clinical Trials Service and lead on the introduction of the licensed ATMPs, including CAR-Ts, which are therapies to treat cancer. I'm also an honorary consultant to the Governance Team at The University of Manchester for sponsored clinical trials.
I am chair of the UK Pan-Pharmacy Clinical Trials ATMP subgroup, and locally I am one of the Innovate Manchester Advanced Therapy Centre Hub (iMATCH) MFT pharmacists. MFT is part of the iMATCH health consortium, which was awarded nearly £7 million by Innovate UK, the government’s innovation agency, in 2018.
The funding means more patients will benefit from a new generation of disease-fighting drugs for cancer and non-cancer illnesses. Manchester was one of only three centres in Britain awarded funding by Innovate UK from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, to coordinate a strategy to scale-up advanced therapies for a range of debilitating conditions.
Working in Manchester and in an ever-changing environment for improvement and innovation is both equally challenging and rewarding. I feel very privileged to get to work side-by-side with professors, consultants, nurses, research and innovation staff, and of course pharmacy colleagues, who are all experts in their field.
In my job I get to see how new therapies are translated from the lab to patients, from bench to bedside.
We are able to offer our patients the latest therapies, which in some cases are life-saving, making this job a hugely rewarding experience. The new therapies may be new antibiotics being tested in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for resistant bacteria, cellular therapies and gene therapies like CAR-Ts for haematology and oncology (cancer) patients, new gene therapy for blind patients, heart conditions, etc.
The highlight of last year for me was to be able to offer a new, first in human gene therapy for a paediatric patient with a rare disease. Following this, a clinical trial is now open at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
A highlight from 2020 already was Manchester Royal Eye Hospital delivering the first licensed gene therapy for retinal disorders. You can watch the patient, Lee Morris’, experience on the MFT website. Being part of the team as a pharmacist was very exciting and rewarding. Our pharmacy team engaged with the wider multi-disciplinary team and, in collaboration, we enabled the governance for the products to be administered in a safe and controlled manner.
I’ve always loved research since I was a child; I was fascinated with how the body works and this passion took me to study pharmacy and biochemistry. When I finished this I decided to pursue a Masters in Haematology, working in the lab with stem cells. Later I worked with a European grant scheme as a visiting scientist for pharmaceutical company, Merck, and this is how I came to UK, from Spain in 2001. I loved the opportunities England had to offer to young scientists, so I decided to stay and did a PhD in diabetic neuropathy, in Manchester.
I can probably say that during this period I had the time of my life, as I was constantly learning, making life-lasting friends from all over the world and travelling, showcasing my research.
Manchester was perfect for me and many other scientist and students, as it provides a great student life and great science to be inspired by. For example, President of The University of Manchester, Dame Nancy Rothwell, was a professor in the next-door lab, when I did my PhD.
Now working in the NHS in my current role I have the best of both worlds, as I still work in close collaboration with scientists from University, as well as great clinicians and research teams at MFT’s hospitals – and we get to implement state-of-the art therapies in the real world. Education and training the next generations of pharmacists, medics and nurses is also very important to me, as is sharing and improving treatments and patient experiences.
There are always challenges in the world of academia and the NHS, but when we see the benefits of research in action – improving outcomes for our patients at MFT – everything is worthwhile.