Briefly, tell us about your background and career up to this point?
I trained in medicine at Guy’s hospital and was the very first student president of UMDS which became GSTT. I was influenced by two great clinical scientists (Professor John Rees and Dr Mac Cochrane) to focus on respiratory medicine. My PhD was at Imperial under the only current Respiratory FRS, Professor Peter Barnes. Upon completing my training, I rather lost my focus on research. It was always there, I always was research active, but I became distracted by clinical medicine, education and medical management. I kept ties with Imperial and developed new ones with Oxford. My research focus has always been COPD, this is a disease of deprived populations, and the patients are mainly managed in the community. So, setting up community services has enabled me to continue my research into mechanisms of disease and structures of care.
I moved my clinical work down to Hampshire and my research took off again, based in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford. Of course, the pandemic changed so much, fortunately for me I was working with a group and a superb colleague (Professor Mona Bafadhel), and we saw an opportunity to take our expertise in the management of airways disease and apply that to a clinical trial in the treatment of COVID-19. This was the STOIC study. The question was simple, the plan simple, as is so much of the best research, and we were delighted when the study was positive. Indeed, it was stopped early because of clinical effect and statistical futility. The findings have been applied to international COVID-19 treatment guidelines and we have been able, with collaborators at Imperial, to perform original basic science into the response of the airway to viral infection. Mona moved to Kings, and I have taken the opportunity to follow, to complete the circle of my career. Kings is a vibrant and exciting place to be right now. Very open for collaboration and a melting pot of some of the brightest minds in science right now. I am also the Clinical Lead for Respiratory Medicine for the South East of England which is great fun but takes up a lot of time.
What is a typical day like for you?
I live in the New Forest in Hampshire, so to get to King's means I start early! I catch the 7am train which is a great place to catch up with emails and some writing. I have learnt that preparation for the day really helps, and this travel time is a good thing. Into the Guy’s campus for a catch up with Mona and a review of our planned work. Then it is a rush of email, virtual and face-to-face meetings. I have only been in post for a couple of months and so I am still meeting people as well as finding a new rhythm to life. We will get together with the team (PI’s and post docs) in the afternoon and plan studies, publications or just brainstorm, there is an active WhatsApp group for this as well. I try to catch a train home by about 6:30pm in order to dovetail with my family a little. The journey back is usually spent catching up and working on my journal. It is very dark and cold in the Forest now and so an early bedtime is often quite attractive!
Looking back, did the pandemic and resulting lockdowns teach you anything you’re willing to share?
For those of us in Respiratory Medicine the pandemic time was a simple time. We would get up, go to work at the hospital, come home and repeat. It made me value colleagues more, to look out for people more and appreciate how we as clinicians and scientist need to be able to communicate and translate what we do to the public better. Communication is so important in order to make things change.
Do you have any current projects that you’d like to tell us about?
I am running a large study into the management of asthma using biomarkers to direct therapy. This ends soon and I am enticed by the data. The big thing for us is the Kings Centre for Lung health. Our ethos is to be able to describe and drive improvements in the lung health of our population across the whole of their lives. Lung disease does not start when it presents, and we so often study the populations of patients at the end of a process and not at the right time. Our goal is to develop the Centre to provide a place for lung research to flourish with collaborations across the whole of King's as well as with external partners. Mona and I are reaching out to this end, so please do get in touch if you feel you can contribute in any way at all.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
In 5 years, the Lung Centre will be the pre-eminent place for respiratory research in London, if not the UK. I will be a Professor in the Centre and have roles in directing activity, running studies but also in inspiring the next generation through supervision and teaching in a sharing environment. Patients will be at the centre of what we do.
What do you do with your time outside academia/work?
I am someone who generally says yes, perhaps this is a dangerous thing to make public! I have a passion for sport, and it is pretty much essential to either sail or ride horses in the Forest. I do the former and not the latter. I also play golf, badly, but am trying to improve. Travel is a passion of mine and if I was not a doctor, I would have liked to be a travel agent or travel writer in order to share the experiences we can all have in our fabulous world.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I am the Editor in Chief of the International Journal of COPD. I founded this journal in 2005 with the goal of making the world a smaller place where it is easier for the global COPD research community to publish their work. I think I may now be the longest serving respiratory journals editor in the world and nothing makes me happier than when colleagues tell me they enjoy reading the IJCOPD and people come up to me at conferences and tell me stories of how getting their work published changed the depredation and trajectory of their careers.
Favourite book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the journey means so much.
Favourite cuisine: Indian for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Coffee order: Black americano. I want to taste the beans.
One thing you could not go a day without: A hug and a smile.