20 July 2021
For the next instalment of our Behind the Microscope series, we speak to Senior Clinical Research Scientist, Nathan Gale, to discover more about his scientific journey. He also tells us how the findings of his latest paper, published in Internal and Emergency Medicine, further substantiate that smokers who completely switch to using Tobacco Heating Products (THP) instead of continuing to smoke can reduce their risk of smoking-related diseases.*
A passion for science
Nathan grew up in the Suffolk town of Bury St. Edmunds and his passion for science started in the labs at school. “I enjoyed all of my science lessons, but I was particularly fascinated by chemistry. I loved all the colours and smells in our practical chemistry lessons. I always seemed to do well at the subject, so, when it came round to organising my work experience, I knew I wanted to do something in science. I sent letters to a few labs near where I lived and one of them offered me the chance to work for them for a week. That week went well, and the following few summers during the school holidays, they employed me to work in their labs and I loved it.”
After school, Nathan went on to Southampton University, originally planning to do a four-year MSc in chemistry, but he didn’t complete his degree. “Towards the end of my second year I went through a lot of upheaval in my life. I originally planned to take a year out before returning to my course, but I managed to get a job as a Microbiology Technician and then moved to one of the company’s other sites as a Chemistry Technician. I was working on the analysis of various foodstuffs for their nutritional content, such as fats, proteins and fibre, so I was doing all the wet chemistry I’d enjoyed so much at school.”
Return to studying
Following a brief spell working in Materials Chemistry, Nathan applied for a job at BAT, and in 2004 he joined the company as an Analytical Chemist. In this early part of his career at BAT, Nathan started to think about returning to his studies. “Leaving Southampton University without finishing my course was something that had played on my mind for a while. About a year after joining the company, I mentioned that I hadn’t completed my degree and discussed the possibility of doing it via the Open University as this seemed like a good option. Luckily my Line Manager at the time was very supportive and said yes straight away. From there, BAT was so generous. The company funded my studies and gave me study leave each year. I don’t think the business could have done any more.
“Doing a degree alongside a full-time job was incredibly difficult at times, especially when my workload at BAT was high, but it would have been so much harder without all the support I was given. Seven years later I was awarded my BSc (Hons) in Molecular Science and it’s something I’m really proud of, particularly as I was the first person from my family to go to university.”
Launching BAT’s first Vapour Product
At BAT, Nathan was initially involved in the development of methods to analyse smoke toxicants and tobacco constituents. He then got the opportunity to do a secondment working on the human studies that were being carried out on the traditional oral product, snus, and it was at this point he started to develop an interest in project management. It was also around this time that BAT started to work on New Category products and Nathan was seconded to a team put together to produce the company’s first vaping device. “The original plan was to develop and test our first vapour product, the Vype Disposable. We had a really short timescale to get one on the CEO’s desk. But then, when we were only halfway through, the scope of the project changed and we were tasked with getting 40,000 ready to put on the market. The science was a critical deliverable for the launch, and our ability to enable the product to launch on time remains one of my proudest achievements with BAT.”
Nathan then moved into the Clinical Research team and, for the past seven years, he has been leading a range of studies. “With our New Category products, it’s really important to show reduced emissions in the lab and reduced effects on cells in vitro. This work is foundational for the evaluation of the reduced risk potential of these products. In addition to the work done in the lab, we also need to understand what happens in the human body. That’s why our clinical research is so crucial and the studies in which we are assessing Biomarkers of Exposure (BoE) and Biomarkers of Potential Harm (BoPH) are the lynchpin because these studies involve real people. The clinical work we’re doing further contributes to the weight of evidence that substantiates New Category products as reduced risk for smokers who switch to them completely*. This work is all about reducing risk. It is about people. For me that’s a huge motivation and anything we can do as a company to reduce the health impact and still give adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke a choice is really important.”
glo clinical study
In his latest paper, published in Internal and Emergency Medicine, Nathan conducted a study to investigate glo, BAT’s flagship THP. Participants in this randomised, controlled study were volunteer smokers assigned either to continue smoking, switch to glo or to cessation, while a control group of non-smokers was also included.
Various BoE and BoPH related to cardiovascular, respiratory diseases and cancer were assessed monthly throughout the study. “As we’d expected from previous shorter studies, our data showed that when people switch completely from cigarettes to glo, their exposure to a whole range of toxicants in cigarette smoke is reduced. For a lot of the toxicants, the exposure is actually reduced to the same level as people who quit smoking. With BoPH, we found that the levels of those markers also reduced, comparable to people who quit smoking completely. This indicates that smokers who switch completely to these products will be at reduced risk, which we hope will ultimately translate into a lower incidence of the major smoking-related diseases.*
The buzz of science engagement
Looking to the future, Nathan will continue to communicate his science with both internal and external stakeholders. “I get a real buzz when I talk about our latest research with people. That moment when you see the penny drop with someone is such a great feeling. When they know what you’re talking about, that’s going to help encourage smokers to completely switch to using reduced risk products*. And during my time at BAT, I’ve been lucky to be involved in a lot of conferences. Sharing our findings and debating them with the outside world is something that really drives me. I want to help people understand that as scientists what we’re trying to do is share the very best science we can.”
* Based on the weight of evidence and assuming a complete switch from cigarette smoking. These products are not risk free and are addictive.
NOTES TO EDITORS
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