Skip to main content

The BSI goes to Parliament

(L-R)Melanie Onn MP, BSI President Peter Openshaw, NRAS CEO Ailsa Bosworth & AbbVie Vice President for Immunology Discovery & Research Lisa Olson

On Tuesday 16 October, the British Society for Immunology co-hosted our first ever Parliamentary event. Along with our partners, National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS), Bioindustry Association and AbbVie, we developed and presented our joint vision for ‘The Future of Immunology’. In this, we made a number of shared recommendations for the actions that need to be taken forward to continue the UK’s pioneering role in immunological research and patient care.

Over a year ago, when the BSI team first sat down with our partner organisations, we all agreed quickly on a vision for the event – continued unparalleled success in immunological research for the benefit of patients living with immune-mediated inflammatory diseases. With all four partners bringing a unique perspective to the unifying vision, the underlying calls to action represented our individual priorities: research investment, patient experience, timely diagnosis and patient access to innovation.

The event itself proved to be an enormous success, with over 100 guests from academia, industry, patients and parliamentarians in attendance. Most notably, we were particularly pleased to welcome Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister of State for Health & Social Care, Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Secretary of State for BEIS and Sir Marc Feldman, discoverer of anti-TNF therapies, along with several members of the Health & Social Care select committee. In addition, we were pleased to work closely with Professor Sir Robert Lechler in his role as President of the Academy of Medical Sciences in the writing of the foreword for the materials handed out at the event.

In his foreword, Professor Lechler emphasised the enormous progress that immunology has made over the past 70 years and how our understanding of innate immune processes continues to improve the lives of patients living with a much wider range of diseases than previously believed to be immune-mediated.

Professor Sir Marc Feldman in discussion with Melanie Onn MP & BSI President Arne Akbar

His words echoed the event’s speeches and subsequent dialogue with a focus on celebrating the past while also looking to a future where different sectors come together to improve and build a greater holistic bench-to-bedside landscape.

As MPs filed into the room, they all happily posed with our pledge card which stated ‘Shaping the future of immunology together to support patients in the UK’. The support in the room for a positive future for immunology was undeniable. Our host, Melanie Onn MP, provided a heartfelt welcome to attendees, framing the importance of investment in immunology research and clinical practice from the patient perspective. This was followed by short talks from BSI President Professor Peter Openshaw, NRAS CEO Ailsa Bosworth and AbbVie Vice President for Immunology Discovery & Research Dr Lisa Olson. This provided the perfect starting point for facilitating discussion among the many stakeholders who joined us.

To ensure that actions are indeed taken forward, we must strike while the iron is hot. As a first step, we will ensure the message for a positive future of immunology gets to all those who have the power to drive the vision; this includes MPs and guests who were unable to attend our event. Of particular interest for us is of course the request for increased research investment and to get a clear understanding from Ministers about their roadmap to 2.4% GDP for research by 2027.

A central part of the BSI’s strategy is to forge new partnerships in line with our mission. This includes working more closely with patients and with industry for mutual benefit. This event was the BSI Public Affairs team’s first major partnership project and moreover our first experience working with industry and a large patient charity. On reflection, the BSI learned a lot from the unique perspectives and expertise of our partners, which demonstrates the success that larger scale collaborations can have.

We are committed to representing our members’ views to the most senior stakeholders, including policymakers. We know that this is one of the activities our membership most values. This means representing views on all topics – from advocating for specific therapy areas – to research funding – to Brexit. One of the most effective ways of gaining parliamentary and ministerial support is by increasing visibility of an issue and events hosted in Parliament are one way to achieve such a profile. ‘The Future of Immunology’ event was the first event of this type for the BSI and will no doubt not be the last.

Shannon Lacombe
Policy & Public Affairs Manager, BSI

Read our full booklet from the event here