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Cancer genetics pioneer Professor Sir Mike Stratton to step down as Wellcome Sanger Institute director

Professor Sir Mike Stratton has announced that he is to step down as director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and CEO of the Wellcome Genome Campus after 12 years in the post.

He will remain at the institute in Hinxton, however, and continue to conduct cancer research.

Prof Sir Mike Stratton. Picture: Wellcome Sanger Institute
Prof Sir Mike Stratton. Picture: Wellcome Sanger Institute

The appointing board, Genome Research Limited, is due to appoint Sir Mike’s successor over the coming year.

“I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished at the institute and on campus, and am absolutely sure that the Sanger Institute will continue to fly high as a global leader in genome research, full of creative ideas, and an operational tour de force brimming with ambition and innovative solutions,” he said. “It is a great privilege for me to lead our organisation. However, today we start the process of looking for a new director.”

Discoveries made by Sir Mike and his teams during his career have aided the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of cancer, while setting the foundation for more personalised cancer treatments.

After studying at Oxford University and Guy’s Hospital in London, Sir Mike trained as a histopathologist, which involves examining tissue under the microscope to study the development of disease.

But he developed a keen interest in the molecular biology of cancer, so completed a PhD in the subject at the Institute of Cancer Research in London in 1989, and went on to accept a position there.

While there, he found his true calling – cancer genetics.

With his team, he identified BRCA2 as one of two major genes that increase the risk of breast cancer when mutated, enabling the development of important predictive tests.

He went on to discover further breast cancer genes and others related to many other cancers, including testicular, colorectal and thyroid cancer.

When the Human Genome Project got under way, he saw the potential to identify all cancer genes so proposed the Cancer Genome Project in 1999.

He joined the Wellcome Sanger Institute a year later and it became the home for the project, which catalogued human cancer mutations.

In 2002, mutations in the BRAF gene and their involvement in 60 per cent of malignant melanoma cases were described by his team.

Then in 2007, Sir Mike led the first international collaboration to investigate mutations arising in different cancers, known as the International Cancer Genome Consortium, which the first project to contribute full catalogues of the mutations in two cancers - small-cell lung cancer and malignant melanoma.

In 2008, he was made a fellow of the Royal Society and he became director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in 2010. He was awarded a knighthood in the 2013 Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to medical sciences.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, said: “During his time as Director, Mike has truly established the Wellcome Sanger Institute as a world-leading genomic research centre. It has been an honour to work alongside Mike – he is an inspirational, captivating scientist.

“Scientific advance depends on collaborative endeavour, and Mike has always taken unselfish delight in describing the work of everyone at the Wellcome Genome Campus.

“Mike can look back with enormous pride, knowing that his vision has helped the Institute have a profound impact on discovery science – from deepening our understanding of the fundamentals of cancer to major advances in infectious disease research, including on Covid-19 – and will play an integral, role in extending knowledge and improving health for the long-term.

“We are keen to ensure that Mike’s replacement will continue his exceptional legacy and share our long-term commitment to the Wellcome Sanger Institute’s vision of tackling the greatest challenges in genome research and pushing the boundaries to address the world’s most pressing health issues.”

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