Jenner Lecture 2020 – Professor Stewart Cole
Published: 16 October 2020
The annual Jenner Day at St George’s, University of London began in 2013, as an opportunity to share the Institute for Infection & Immunity’s important work in tackling infectious diseases and conditions linked to immune system function.
The scale of the day has since grown year on year, encompassing talks from the University’s experts, and culminating in the Jenner Lecture, where renowned academics from other institutions have been invited to speak on their areas of expertise.
This year, the Jenner Lecture found a new home online, and invited Professor Stewart Cole to the (virtual) stage. A world-leading expert in tuberculosis (TB) and Director General of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, Professor Cole’s talk focused on the efforts to accelerate drug development to treat TB. His presentation covered the last two decades’ worth of intensive efforts to discover new therapeutic agents against the disease, which has claimed over a billion human lives across the past two centuries.
Professor Cole opened his talk with a nod to the current coronavirus pandemic, flagging the work done by the Institut Pasteur in combating the virus, which attacks the respiratory system.
Much like Covid-19, TB is also a disease that predominantly affects the lungs. One that we haven’t yet been able to eradicate, despite decades of research. “The 1950s and 60s were the golden age for new drugs against TB,” said Professor Cole. “But after the launch of the TB Alliance in 2000, funders started investing more heavily in TB. As a result of this investment, we’ve seen new drugs developed and approved in the last ten years.”
These new drugs include therapies that Professor Cole has been involved in developing. One example is a class of compounds called benzothiazinones, where he led a piece of work highlighting their activity against TB. The seminal research paper also featured contributions from two St George’s scientists, Professor Philip Butcher and Dr Simon Waddell.
According to Professor Cole, the future of TB treatment is promising, with many new drugs finding their way into phase I and II clinical trials. Partnerships between pharmaceuticals companies and academics across Europe and beyond are accelerating the development of new regimens for TB at an unprecedented rate.
Speaking on the current global health crisis, Professor Cole’s final thoughts were on the lessons the research community can take from TB and apply to this global issue. He highlighted that target-based approaches may be the most effective means to develop successful treatments, with input from pharmaceuticals companies required to take drugs through to patients.
He added: “Ultimately, we need to build trust in the public. There’s been so much fake news and hyperbole about so-called treatments, that we have much work to do to gain confidence from the public.
“We can do that by working together in a transparent and harmonious manner. Inspired by the work we have done on TB and other diseases, we can do the work to come up with inhibitors for Covid-19 and roll back this pandemic.”
This year’s lecture ended with a message from St George’s Principal, Professor Jenny Higham, who thanked Professor Cole for his insightful presentation and said the talk was a “timely reminder that Covid-19 is not the only pandemic we need to address right now.”
Unfortunately, due to a technical issue, many external guests were prevented from accessing the link to the live lecture. We would like to apologise to those that were unable to attend.
The lecture was recorded, and if you would like to see, you can do so by clicking on this link.
We hope that there will be further opportunities in the near future for external audience members to be included in similar events.