On Tuesday last week I had the slightly surreal experience of attending the launch of MedCity in London by Boris Johnson. MedCity is a London based initiative which aims to emphasise the City’s eminence as a centre for biomedical innovation. For this purpose, MedCity is presented as extending beyond the M25 to include Oxford and Cambridge.
A cynical view of this would be that London is exploiting our brands and excellence for its own benefit. But I think it’s sensible to take a rather different view which is that Oxford, Cambridge and London are all located very close to each other, and for us to compete with other centres across the world there is a lot to be gained by working together to portray the remarkable opportunities in this region. As expected, Boris was charismatic and highly entertaining. He reminded us all of the excitement of scientific discovery in 17th Century London, and argued that this led directly to the industrial revolution and Britain’s subsequent pre-eminence. He had a series of questions for the audience about where in London particular breakthroughs had happened. These included some one liners that only he could get away with. For example, he told us that penicillin would be very useful after a disreputable night out in Paddington. He also told us that he thought Darwin’s idea of evolution, which he developed in Bromley, owed something to the primitive characteristics of the local inhabitants.
There were some interesting questions from the Press including what MedCity would do for digital health. Boris’s reply included “What does digital health mean? My own digits are perfectly healthy” as he waved his hands around. We also heard from two really impressive companies, Circassia and Spirogen. Circassia raised £200m in an initial public offering valuing it at a total of £581m. Spirogen was acquired by MedImmune in a deal potentially worth $440m. I was there because I am on the Advisory Board of MedCity, as is Sir John Bell, the Regius Professor of Medicine in Oxford. I am sure that there is real potential, but if this is to succeed Oxford and Cambridge need to be more than an afterthought!
Another notable event last week was a retirement dinner for Dr. Jonathan Silverman, who set up the clinical communications skills course for our medical students. This is a really excellent part of student training here in Cambridge and he will be greatly missed. Some very talented students sang and performed sketches during the reception and dinner. My favourite was a sketch in which a young doctor used his communication skills to tell his long suffering girlfriend that he was breaking up with her. It ended with him giving her a feedback form! Jonathan himself was also on good form, likening the weekly Deanery meeting to a mafia family gathering with particular roles for Diana Wood (the capofamiglia) and the Associate Deans (Paul Siklos, Mark Gurnell, Mark Lillicrap, Ruchi Sinnatamby, Richard Davies and John Clark). I am going to look at them all in a slightly different light in the future, wondering which character in The Sopranos each might suit best.