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Harnessing breakthrough thinking

How fostering innovation is key to securing the health of the nation

By Susan Rienow

The word “crisis” is one we hear more often than we would like. A health crisis – caused by winter pressures or the pandemic – a climate crisis, an energy crisis, a cost-of-living crisis.

As we embark on a new year, it is important to reflect. We’re now three years on from the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020 – a dark time for the country and for all of us.

However, it’s clear that times of crisis, such as the pandemic, can lead to the biggest breakthroughs in science and technology.

During one of our darkest moments, we came together to showcase the best of British ingenuity.

Our scientists, government and industry worked at light speed to deliver game-changing therapies and vaccine technologies, all while supporting the nation to adapt to new ways of working, living and recovering.

But these kinds of breakthroughs don’t happen by chance.

It takes the right environment, support and conditions for science and innovation to thrive.

It is not just about expertise; it’s about mind-set and how we come together in pursuit of a shared mission.

This mission-led approach and entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with collective and powerful collaboration, helped us achieve what had previously been unthinkable. This shouldn’t begin and end with Covid-19.

We set out our commitment to this mission at a recent event, at the London Science Museum, where I was honoured to be joined by the former innovation and life sciences ministers Lord James Bethell and Baroness Nicola Blackwood, Dr David Garry (John Radcliffe Hospital), Richard Sloggett (Future Health), Kate Stanley (Frameworks UK), Melanie Sturtevant (Breast Cancer Now) and Professor Robert West (University College London).

Continuing into 2023, we want to explore how we can unlock breakthrough thinking – and harness the UK government’s renewed mission-led mind-set to tackling health challenges – to benefit people’s health in every part of the UK. The past few years have demonstrated the power of us coming together. No single company, public institution or individual can impact the nation’s health alone.

And my message is clear: if we can harness our learnings from the pandemic and the government’s approach to continuing the unparalleled partnership between the public and private sectors into 2023 and beyond, it will help us to deliver more breakthroughs in cancer, conditions associated with ageing, respiratory disease, vaccines and beyond.

The government has been vocal in its ambitions to make the UK a “scientific superpower” by 2030, and I believe that a nurtured, supported and world-class scientific ecosystem in the UK can provide countless opportunities.

Sir Patrick Vallance said that “countries must apply science and technology strategically and embed it in their policy and decision making.”

To do this, it is vital we reflect on how industry, government and the health sector can work better together to tackle future health challenges and foster innovation.

Covid-19 hasn’t gone away, but as we continue to recover from the worst days of the pandemic, the UK has a unique opportunity to bottle the mission-led mind-set that drove incredible breakthroughs.

By seizing this moment, the lessons we have learned, and the potential of our government and industry, we can unlock the breakthrough thinking needed to deliver a more resilient, prosperous and healthy society.

Susan Rienow is Country President of Pfizer UK

PP-UNP-GBR-3378 – January 2023

  1. Government press release. Government to use Vaccine Taskforce model to tackle health challenges. Available at: government/news/government-to-use-vaccine-taskforce-model-totackle-health-challenges. [Last accessed: January 2023]
  2. 2. BMJ. UK needs specific plan to become “science superpower,” peers claim. Available at: o1948. [Last accessed: January 2023]
  3. 3. Civil Service blog. UK’s quest to be a global science superpower. Available at: uks-quest-to-be-a-global-science-superpower. [Last accessed: January 2023]

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