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Royal Society elects 11 Cambridge-based scientists as new fellows



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Sir Menelas Pangalos is one of more than 60 exceptional scientists – of whom ten are based in Cambridge – from around the world to have been elected fellows and foreign members of the Royal Society this week.

Prof Jason Chin at LMB. He and his team have synthesised the entire genome of the bacterium E. coli – only the second time an entire genome has been synthesised. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prof Jason Chin at LMB. He and his team have synthesised the entire genome of the bacterium E. coli – only the second time an entire genome has been synthesised. Picture: Keith Heppell

The executive vice president and president, biopharmaceuticals R&D, at AstraZeneca joins the fellowship “having made outstanding contributions to applied life science as an academic neuroscientist and a pharmaceutical leader who has transformed AstraZeneca’s R&D pipeline”.

He is in illustrious company, with 50 other fellows and 10 foreign members also invited into the learned society and UK national academy of sciences founded in 1660. Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organisation, has received an honorary fellowship.

Sir Mene’s Cambridge companions are:

  • Professor Graham Burton, Mary Marshall and Arthur Walton professor emeritus of the physiology of reproduction, University of Cambridge;
  • Prof Jason Chin, head, Centre for Chemical and Synthetic Biology, and joint head, Division of Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology;
  • Professor Robin Franklin, principal investigator, Altos Labs – Cambridge Institute
Prof Roberto Cipolla, Professor of Information Engineering, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge; Fellow of the Royal Society. Picture: University of Cambridge
Prof Roberto Cipolla, Professor of Information Engineering, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge; Fellow of the Royal Society. Picture: University of Cambridge
Prof Robin Franklin, principal investigator, Altos Labs – Cambridge Institute
Prof Robin Franklin, principal investigator, Altos Labs – Cambridge Institute

Prof Richard Gilbertson, Li Ka Shing chair of oncology and head of Department of Oncology, University of Cambridge

Prof Roberto Maiolino, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology and Professor of Experimental Astrophysics, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge
Prof Roberto Maiolino, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology and Professor of Experimental Astrophysics, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge

“It’s amazing who is or who has been in the fellowship,” Sir Mene said of the news. “It’s super-cool. You’re nominated by a fellow and then there’s a lengthy election process with committees and sub-committees. It’s something I’m very proud of.”

Sir Mene – who was knighted in the new year 2020 honours list – joined AstraZeneca in 2010, and has led the transformation of R&D productivity through the development and implementation of the ‘5R’ framework, resulting in a greater than four-fold increase in success rates against industry averages.

He is also overseeing the creation of AstraZeneca’s new R&D Discovery Centre in Cambridge – a cutting-edge facility designed to stimulate collaborative scientific innovation.

And all the while he retains an active interest in neurodegenerative disease and neuropharmacology, and continues to mentor postdocs and PhD students.

Prof Angelos Michaelides, Professor of Chemistry, Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge
Prof Angelos Michaelides, Professor of Chemistry, Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge

So which of these contributions was the most significant?

“I think it’s a combination of all three,” he replies. “At AstraZeneca we’re having an impact on life sciences and life sciences in the UK, plus I’ve been able to help with the challenges to transform AstraZeneca’s productivity and positioning Cambridge as a premier R&D facility.

“There’s also been a lot of work around Covid, vaccines and antibiotics – first and foremost I’m a neuroscientist, and I’ve carried on publishing.”

The work goes on, of course – not least at the Discovery Centre.

Prof Richard Gilbertson, Li Ka Shing chair of oncology and head of Department of Oncology, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge
Prof Richard Gilbertson, Li Ka Shing chair of oncology and head of Department of Oncology, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge

“It’ll be ready to be commissioned in four to six months,” he says. “We are using the building. Hopefully it’ll be fully commissioned in October.”

Not all the necessary equipment is on-site just yet.

“It’s a combination of new equipment and some from laboratories across the UK, and in and around Cambridge – there’s some big bits of equipment involved. There will be 1,600 scientists working here. It’s a fantastic place for us to be.”

The Royal Society’s fundamental purpose is to recognise, promote and support excellence in science and to support the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.

Prof Graham Burton, Mary Marshall and Arthur Walton Professor Emeritus of the Physiology of Reproduction, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge
Prof Graham Burton, Mary Marshall and Arthur Walton Professor Emeritus of the Physiology of Reproduction, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge

The new fellows span multiple disciplines, from using AI to better detect strokes to developing new technologies for improved energy storage and expanding our understanding of genetic cancer risk factors in non-European populations.

This year’s Cambridge cohort is a fulsome tribute to the work going on in and around the city.

“I love being in Cambridge,” says Sir Mene. “It’s brilliant here and I’m thrilled to see so many others from the city becoming fellows of the Royal Society.”

Prof Douglas Easton, professor of genetic epidemiology, Centre for Cancer Genetic Epidemiology, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge
Prof Douglas Easton, professor of genetic epidemiology, Centre for Cancer Genetic Epidemiology, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge

Sir Adrian Smith, president of the Royal Society, said: “It is an honour to welcome so many outstanding researchers from around the world into the fellowship of the Royal Society.

“Through their careers so far, these researchers have helped further our understanding of human disease, biodiversity loss and the origins of the universe.

“I am also pleased to see so many new fellows working in areas likely to have a transformative impact on our society over this century, from new materials and energy technologies to synthetic biology and artificial intelligence. I look forward to seeing what great things they will achieve in the years ahead.”

Prof Paul Lehner, Professor of Immunology and Medicine, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge
Prof Paul Lehner, Professor of Immunology and Medicine, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge

Another fellow inducted this year is Dr Simon Boulton, who studied Molecular Biology at the University of Edinburgh, then studied for a PhD at the University of Cambridge under Prof Steve Jackson of the Gurdon Institute from 1994 to 1998. It was at Cambridge that Dr Boulton began researching mechanisms of DNA. Currently based in the Francis Crick Institute in London, he has described his first exposure to the research environment at Cambridge as “extremely influential”.

This year’s fellows and foreign members join the ranks of Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Lise Meitner, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and Dorothy Hodgkin.



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