Britain should “get very close” to the US from the perspective of science, the Government’s new chief scientific adviser has said.
But that in no way meant abandoning Europe and its population of “outstanding scientists”, he added.
Dr Patrick Vallance, previously head of Research and Development at pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), stressed the importance of keeping science globally international as the Brexit deadline looms nearer.
And he stressed that as far as science was concerned, our closest partners lay on the other side of the Atlantic rather than the English Channel.
Speaking to journalists at a briefing in London, Dr Vallance said: “Still our biggest scientific collaborator is the US. They’ve got their own challenges at the moment in terms of questions around immigration policy and other things that might affect their science base.
“We should get very close to the US scientists and make sure that we get the right programmes in place, and that’s true for countries across the world as well.”
At the same time he fully supported the Government’s efforts to maintain long-established scientific links with the European Union.
“If you interrupt science you don’t just pick it back up again,” he said. “When somebody moves from laboratory A to laboratory B the general reckoning is you lose two years.
“The science deal that the Government is pushing for will try and maintain that continuity and it’s really important that we keep pushing for that.
“Its not right that we withdraw from European science.”
Europe had “great universities, great laboratories, great businesses”, he said.
Dr Vallance pointed out that science was “fundamentally international”. Around half of the resident scientists in the UK working on leading projects were from overseas, and 30% of British Nobel Prize winners over the past 10 years were born abroad.
He went on: “I think there’s no question that if you want to be a successful country scientifically you have to be international. You cannot be parochial.”
He said one of his key objectives was to build up a cohesive team of scientific advisers working across all government departments.
“My big focus is on the process of getting the right people in post and then the second part is how the group becomes a team rather than a series of individuals,” said Dr Vallance.
“I’ve not had any resistance at all to the idea that every department should have a CSA [chief scientific adviser].”
Health, air pollution, food supply, and information security were likely to be four of the biggest challenges facing ministers in years to come, he believed.
Speaking about health, he said: “We will be able to cure certain diseases. That may sound odd to say, but when you look at the entire history of the pharmaceutical industry and others it hasn’t been possible to cure many diseases.
“That’s a new era. Why is that important? It starts to change how you think about health care delivery.”