Preferred candidate chosen for the role of Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council

Preferred candidate chosen for the role of Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council

Professor Fiona Watt FRS has been selected as the government’s preferred candidate to be the Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC) when it becomes a constituent part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in April 2018.

Professor Watt is currently Director of the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at King’s College London. Here she leads a team of 80 academic researchers and is internationally recognised in her field with particular expertise in the stem cells of healthy and diseased skin.

The current MRC Chief Executive, Sir John Savill FRS, steps down at the end of March 2018 before UKRI is launched.

Professor Watt said:
“I am deeply honoured to be selected as the Government’s preferred candidate to lead the MRC at this time of extraordinary opportunity for the UK’s biomedical researchers.”

Sir Mark Walport, UKRI CEO Designate, said:
“Professor Fiona Watt is a distinguished biomedical scientist who will be an outstanding leader of the Medical Research Council.  I am delighted she has been selected as the Government’s preferred candidate for the role of MRC Executive Chair.”

The post of MRC Executive Chair is potentially subject to a pre-appointment hearing by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. The Committee will consider this in due course. If a pre-appointment hearing is requested then arrangements will be made for this in the new year.


Update February 2018: The Science and Technology Committee approved Fiona Watt's appointment on 31 January at the pre-appointment hearing.

Notes to editors

  1. The Medical Research Council is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-two MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. 
     
  2. Operating across the whole of the UK and with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UK Research and Innovation will bring together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England. UK Research and Innovation will ensure that the UK maintains its world leadership in research and innovation, by creating a system that “best environment for research and innovation to flourish. It will come into existence on 1 April 2018.
     
  3. Executive Chairs will be crucial to delivering UKRI’s mission to maintain the UK’s global leadership in research and innovation. They will lead each of the nine councils that will be part of UKRI, and the role will combine the responsibilities of the current Chair and Chief Executive of each Council.
     
  4. Pre-appointment scrutiny hearings enable Select Committees to take evidence from candidates for certain key public appointments before they are appointed. Hearings are in public and involve the Select Committee publishing a report setting out their views on the candidate’s suitability for a post. Pre-appointment hearings are non-binding but ministers will consider the committee’s views before deciding whether to proceed with the appointment.
     
  5. Fiona Watt obtained her first degree from Cambridge University and her DPhil, in cell biology, from the University of Oxford. Following postdoctoral training at MIT, she established her first research group at the Kennedy Institute for Rheumatology and then spent 20 years at the CRUK London Research Institute (now part of the Francis Crick Institute). She helped to establish the CRUK Cambridge Research Institute and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research and in 2012 she moved to King's College London to found the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine. Fiona Watt is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her awards include the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) Women in Cell Biology Senior Award, Presidency of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, the Hunterian Society Medal and the FEBS/EMBO Women in Science Award. In 2016 she was awarded Doctor Honoris Causa of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. She is internationally recognised for her work on stem cells in healthy and diseased skin.