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My journey advancing the science in pulmonary hypertension

By Neil Davie

Neil Davie

I have worked in pulmonary hypertension (PH) – a serious, progressive disease that can lead to heart failure and early death – for many years now, but it all began with a series of chance meetings and profound encounters.

These moments have stayed with me all my life, encouraging and motivating me even in the most difficult times. While I would love to say that my dedication to PH is entirely my own, in reality it is the product of a phenomenal mentor, people I have worked with, people I currently work with and of course, a number of incredible people living with the disease. Everyone that lives and works with PH has stories to tell: I hope sharing mine can empower others to express their own.

Early in my cardiovascular science career, I met a young girl – about twelve at the time, and a keen swimmer. She had been diagnosed with PH, and back then, the only treatment available to her was administered via a continuous intravenous line. When she found out, she was heartbroken that she wouldn’t be able to swim again – and her mother didn’t know how to tell her that PH would impact her life in so many ways beyond just swimming. The disease was, and remains, life-altering and life-threatening. That day was when I knew I wanted to dedicate my career to improving the lives of people like her.

The most formative years of my PH journey were working as a student in the lab of Dame Julia Polak at Hammersmith Hospital in London. Julia was a tireless, brilliant woman.

We collaborated on the cellular molecular mechanisms underlying PH and a theory that nerve endings in the pulmonary arteries released growth factors, which influenced certain cells to proliferate – exactly what we see now in people with PH.

It was incredibly gratifying to work with bright, driven colleagues in that laboratory. But what stands out most from that time was Julia’s unexpected diagnosis with the same disease she was fighting – PH. At the time the only realistic treatment option for her was a heart and lung transplant, which is a risky procedure. Luckily, she received the transplant quickly and recovered well.

After her transplant, Julia was determined not only to fight PH, but to find a solution to transplant delays. Always have hope, she told me. Ultimately, the work we did – on endothelin and prostacyclin in PH – became the foundation of my doctoral thesis. Julia was a remarkable mentor and I know that I am lucky to have had her guidance. Julia taught me to always be driven by the science – to let our work guide us to where we need to go, and she remains a major influence on my journey within PH. She showed me what can be achieved when you’re passionate, motivated and have a great team supporting you. It’s exactly how we are at Janssen now, and I am thankful to have a team dedicated to driving the science forwards.

Of course, patient outcomes and quality of life have improved since my first encounters with PH, but more still needs to be done and improving the lives of people living with PH is still foremost in my mind.

Over the last few decades, we have continued to develop our scientific understanding of PH to improve the quality of life for those living with it. Most recently at Janssen, we have collaborated with patients and healthcare professionals to create a first-of-its-kind pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) Patient Charter, designed to set the baseline for holistic PAH care. It is available in 14 languages and continues to attract signatories from around the world. Iam so thankful to everyone whose journeys, like mine, are dedicated to combating PH.

I’ll leave you with one more story, this one later in my career. I happened to meet two people living with PH and, when I told them I had spent my career within PH clinical research, they both immediately hugged me. They told me that, thanks to research undertaken by teams like mine, their quality of life had improved to the point that they felt able and confident to undertake daily activities again (such as driving to the shops). To hear about the impact of our work directly from these individuals was truly heart-warming and highlighted to me how important it is.

While my PH journey has already been an interesting one, I know it’s not yet finished. I anticipate continuing our work for a long while yet!

Neil Davie is Head of Late Development, Cardiovascular, Metabolism & Pulmonary Hypertension at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

Neil Davie is Head of Late Development, Cardiovascular, Metabolism & Pulmonary Hypertension at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

27th June 2022

From: Marketing, Healthcare

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