Richard Guy, PhD

‘Interview with a Luminary’ is an exciting new project from the Young Scientist Committee! We sit down with a renowned researcher in the field of drug delivery every month and pick their brains on a variety of different topics including what sparked their interest in their chosen field, defining moments in their careers to date and what they enjoy doing outside of the lab. They will also offer advice to those starting out on their scientific careers which we’re sure every young researcher will be interested to hear! So, join us every month for an insight into the minds of those at the pinnacle of drug delivery research around the globe!

This month we showcase an interview with Professor Richard Guy from the University of Bath. Professor Guy received an M.A. in Chemistry from Oxford University and his Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the (now) UCL School of Pharmacy. He has held academic posts at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Geneva. In 2004, he joined the University of Bath as Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology.

Professor Guy's research focuses on skin barrier function characterization, transdermal drug delivery, enhancement of percutaneous absorption, iontophoresis, non-invasive biosensing, and the prediction and assessment of skin penetration and topical bioavailability. He has published 350+ peer-reviewed articles and over 70 book chapters. He has co-authored one book, co-edited 7 others, and he is co-inventor of 12 patents.

In 2016, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science from Oxford University and the Maurice-Marie Janot Award from APGI for original and innovative research in pharmaceutics, biopharmaceutics and pharmaceutical technology.  In 2018, he was the first recipient of the CRS Transdermal Delivery Kydonieus Foundation Award.

This interview will provide an excellent insight into Professor Guy’s stellar career thus far!

  1. What sparked your interest in science in general and drug delivery in particular?Richard Guy

Chemistry was the science that set me on my ultimate career path.  However, while I was quite hopeless at organic synthesis, I really enjoyed the more orderly (and less noxious) branch of physical chemistry.  This turned out to be the right choice for what’s turned out to be a satisfying life applying physicochemical principles to challenges in drug delivery and formulation optimisation. 

  1. Share a turning point or defining moment you experienced in your work as a scientist.

I studied chemistry at Oxford University as an undergraduate and my final year research project involved the mechanism by which compounds penetrated the skin. Two things made this a defining moment in my career.  First, it was pure serendipity that I worked on this project as the student to whom it was originally assigned asked if we could swap.  Second, the project was a follow-on to the doctoral thesis of Jonathan Hadgraft and led to long collaboration involving skin absorption and the topical/transdermal drug delivery path from which I have pursued over the past 30 years.

  1. Tell us about the exciting ways in which your particular field is progressing.

Much recent attention is focused on the use of microneedles to minimally invasively short-circuit the skin’s barrier and create new penetration pathways across the skin’s barrier. The most logical application of the approach (and the one most advanced) is vaccination: the dose is small, the treatment is acute (rather than chronic), patient populations are continually renewed, and the approach takes advantage of local immunological amplification in the skin to provoke the desired response. However, where the field goes next is a good question. What outstanding unmet medical need can be addressed with the technology and where can skin poration provide significant add-on value over the needle and syringe? 

In the topical drug delivery arena, there is real progress and fresh ideas being introduced into the development of improved formulations for the treatment of both dermatological disease and subcutaneous inflammation.  Addressing the poor bioavailability of topical drug products is leading to new insights in the fate of formulations as they are applied to the skin (their ‘metamorphosis’), the development of new techniques, such as non-invasive imaging, to assess the local pharmacokinetics of drugs in the skin, and the design of optimised vehicles that reproducibly deliver a larger payload.

  1. What is the best piece of professional advice you have received and from whom?

I’ve had two, one more general and one quite specific.  The general counsel was from Gordon Flynn (University of Michigan) who advised me to stick with the skin, to avoid hopping between research areas, and not to be distracted by the latest fads.  I think I’ve followed that piece of wisdom quite closely over the years and it’s proved to be a sensible choice.  The second, specific advice came from Peretz Glikfeld, a visiting scientist to my lab when I was a member of the faculty at the University of California in San Francisco.  Peretz argued with me long and hard about the group beginning some work in the area of iontophoresis, an idea about which I was quite sceptical at the time.  In the end, I agreed and we set up the equipment and started experiments.  Within a year, we had enough data on which to submit a patent application that underpinned the technology of the GlucoWatch®, the first and still the only non-invasive glucose monitoring device to have been approved by the FDA.  Remarkably, this remains an active research area in my lab to this very day (see: Nature Nanotech 13 (2018) 504-511).

  1. Would you change anything about your career path if you could start over?

Not really, no.

  1. What advice would you give to someone who is starting their scientific career?

Find an area where there is a clearly identifiable need for research that can ultimately have beneficial impact.  Read the literature, especially the key papers in your field that may have been written before you were born!  Talk to peers whenever you can and ask questions, lots of questions.  Be prepared for disappointments – even when grant or paper reviewers get it wrong, there’s usually some message that will help you write a better application or manuscript the next time.  Finally, reserve time for thinking even when the to-do list seems impossibly long.

  1. What do you enjoy doing outside of the lab? What are your hobbies/interests?

To relax, I like to cook (and eat), read, walk and do ‘cultural’ activities: film, theatre, opera, museums, etc. I try to keep as fit as I can with running and the occasional game of squash in the winter and I’m still playing cricket regularly in the summer.  I’m also attempting to improve my ability to speak Spanish… this is going to keep me busy for a while, I think.