I have just returned from the 5th James Black Conference on ‘Cutting Edge Concepts in Lung Pharmacology’ which was held at The Crieff Hydro in Perthshire, Scotland. This was organised by yours truly and Clive Page ( Kings College, London). The venue and facilities were excellent, the surroundings were beautiful and also close to Sir James Black’s Scottish roots. We certainly breathed in some beautiful Scottish air, cutting edge science and, it has to be said, some whisky fumes!

The Hydro is making up for lost time on that score. It is 140 years old and used to be owned by The Church of Scotland. At that time it was ‘dry’ and if a resident wished to drink alcohol they had to take it with them (as a child, I always wondered why my father never joined us on a family holiday to The Hydro!) These days, however, the bar sports a cabinet full of rare malt whiskies. As you might expect, the pharmacological properties of these were investigated in large measures by our delegates. I believe last orders on the first night were at 4am!

Despite the ‘wee drams’ consumed on the previous evening, everyone turned up every day, not so bright, but very early, for a very exciting programme of science. This covered a wide range of topics from ‘Emerging Therapies’ to ‘Controversies in asthma and COPD management’ and ended with a session on pulmonary hypertension. It was a unique opportunity for ‘airway’ pharmacologists to share concepts with their ‘pulmonary artery’ colleagues. For me, the airways will no longer be just those crunchy bits we throw away after using them to find our pulmonary artery! We also learned more about each others’ terminology, and I was fascinated by the new mantra from the asthma therapists which goes something like this: ‘LAMA, LABA or MABA –hmmmm.’ Brian O’Connor also told us about mucus mugging. This would be the by the bogey man then? (Better remember to spell check that slide, Brian!).

There was a lively debate on the topic of whether ß2-adrenoceptor agonists and steroids are adequately meeting the needs of chronic asthma therapy with Brian O’Conner ( Imperial College, London) presenting the ‘For’ side. Richard Bond ( University of Houston, USA) argued ‘Against’ and presented evidence for perhaps treating asthma using the exact opposite strategy – administering ß-adrenoceptor inverse agonists instead of agonists. Bond defended his stand well, but conceded that reversing dogma was a very difficult task using a quote from Max Planck to emphasise his point: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die.” This sparked a heated and interesting debate.

We also discussed the limitations of the models we have for asthma, COPD and pulmonary hypertension. After some discussion about one mouse model for COPD, Steve Farmer (Novartis) suggested that this model is actually a better model of ‘healthy smokers’ than of ‘COPD patients’. Clive Page remarked that this was the first good point he had ever heard Steve make. Apparently Steve made his second good point later that evening when he recommended to Clive a rare Talisker whisky. The photograph on page 17 verifies that this idea went down very well indeed!

The last talk was by Chris Wayman (Pfizer) on the role of PDE5 and sildenafil in pulmonary hypertension and we heard a fascinating account of the similarities between the pharmacology of the corpus cavernosum and the pulmonary artery. One difference remains, the pulmonary artery constricts to hypoxia. This is known as hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction (HPV). The corpus cavernosum vaso-dilates to hypoxia. This suggests that a new definition is needed for HPV – suggestions on a postcard, please! I was chairing this session and resisted the temptation to roll out all the usual sildenafil jokes (just!). These had already been heard anyway as they had been reeled out by Trevor Jones (Kings College London) when he gave the pre-dinner speech on the first night. Trevor also told several Scotland vs England jokes which I believe almost started another Jacobite Uprising at table 12.

We were delighted that Sir James Black could join us for the meal and most of the meeting. He was unable to stay for the last day but he had the best excuse ever for missing part of a BPS meeting - he’d been invited to lunch with the Queen. Not even the BPS can compete with such an invitation. Sir James contributed greatly with words of wisdom and advice on a range of matters pharmacological. Although this was the last James Black conference to be sponsored by Pfizer, we will continue to call the Autumn focused meeting ‘The James Black Conference’ in recognition of the Society’s respect for this great pharmacologist.

I was also delighted that our new CEO, Kate Baillie, joined us for her first taste of a BPS meeting and I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Kate to the BPS and say how much I am looking forward to working with her.

Our next focused meeting is one not to be missed. It is on ‘High Throughput Pharmacology’ and will be held at the University of Hertfordshire in March 2008. The programme will in-clude sessions on ‘Key drug discovery targets: quantitative pharmacology’ including discussion of GPCR, ion channel, enzyme and nuclear hormone receptor pharmacology. There will also be a session on the use of immortalised, primary and stem cells in drug development. The meeting has been organised after great demand from many members and it follows on from the very successful focused meeting on this topic that was held in 2006. See the BPS website for updates.

As you know, the BPS is hosting EPHAR next year in Manchester. We are de-veloping a dynamic 4 day programme of symposia, oral communications and plenary lectures and will be greeting delegates from over 15 European phar-macological societies. So don’t forget to keep looking at our EPHAR website.

It just remains for me to say that I hope to see all of you at our Winter meeting in Brighton. We have a superb programme lined up (see my last pA2 article for details). See you there!

Mandy MacLean
Meetings Vice-President