The Life Scientific – Professor Sir Martin Landray
Martin featured on The Life Scientific, a BBC Radio 4 science programme presented by Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE, which explores the life and work of renowned scientists.
Before discussing Martin’s career as a trialist and doctor and the landmark RECOVERY clinical trial into treatments for COVID-19, Jim asked Martin about how it all started. Giving a fantastic overview of his childhood with medicine all around him and in a household that occasionally transformed into a GP surgery, Martin said he imbibed the spirit of medicine and decided to pursue a career in it of his own free will.
“Science is not something you bump into. I guess an apple bumped into Isaac Newton but that’s a bit different”
Moving to the early years of his career, Martin discussed studying medicine at Birmingham University followed by his three years working in a hospital before he decided to return to Birmingham to take up lectureship in clinical pharmacology. When asked why he chose this route, Martin said that he “wanted to be a cardiologist” but that there were no jobs, so clinical pharmacology was the closest option – but he continued to do medical training and became fascinated by drug trials and their ability to answer pressing medical questions.
Martin explained that clinical trials are needed to fill the widespread gaps in knowledge about drugs and treatments. The problem is, he cautioned, that modern trials are incredibly complex and costly, so it is essential to design and deliver trials that are cheaper and less burdensome but still able to produce high-quality, robust results. Importantly, Martin added, clinical trials must start and finish with patients.
“My patients keep me grounded and help me to appreciate the real-life side of medicine”
Looking back to 2020, Jim asks what Martin’s first memory of COVID was and how he reacted. Martin explained that as he watched the progression of the virus, both he and Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Global Health at the University of Oxford, soon realised that the UK desperately needed a clinical trial to assess potential drugs for treatment of COVID-19. Enter the RECOVERY trial – modelled on the ISIS 2 trial for acute heart attack and reliant on the cooperation and the incredible willingness of doctors and nurses across the country. It took only 100 days to find that dexamethasone, a common steroid, could reduce the chance of dying by a third for patents on a ventilator and a fifth for patients on oxygen. It also proved that hydroxychloroquine, a drug that many people thought would work, didn’t work. RECOVERY has now saved over one million lives around the world.
Martin affirms that The RECOVERY trial has demonstrated what is possible and the importance of running efficient clinical trials for a range of diseases that place the most strain on global healthcare systems. Listen to the podcast in full here.