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Professor Watt announced as government’s preferred candidate for Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC)

15 January 2018

Professor Watt 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. She takes on the role from Sir John Savill who steps down from his post as MRC’s CEO at the end of March. When asked about Professor Watt’s appointment, Sir John commented:

"I am delighted that Professor Fiona Watt has been selected as the government's preferred candidate to be the first Executive Chair of MRC, succeeding me when I leave the current CEO role at the end of March 2018. Fiona is an outstanding scientist and will bring many new ideas to MRC and UKRI, strengthening still further MRC's commitment to discovery science for human health. She is a wonderful role model for many younger biomedical scientists in the UK medical research community. As the MRC enters its second 105 years as part of UKRI, I am sure that Fiona is well placed to lead the MRC to continuing successes".

Operating across the whole of the UK and with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UKRI will bring together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England. UKRI comes into existence on Sunday 1 April next year and is tasked to ensure the UK maintains its world leadership in research and innovation; the role of the Executive Chair is therefore crucial to delivering this key mission.

The MRC Executive Chair role is potentially subject to a pre-appointment hearing by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. This is currently being considered by the Committee and if requested will be arranged in the New Year.

Professor Watt’s selection for this prestigious role is testament to her outstanding work in the field of stem cells over many years.  A Cambridge graduate, followed by a doctorate from Oxford in cell biology, Fiona 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, moving to King's in 2012 to found the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine.

Fiona is currently Vice-Dean of Research for the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine and Director of the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine at King’s.  She 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 also awarded Doctor Honoris Causa of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid.

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."

Fiona will continue with her research and leadership of the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine at King’s on a part-time basis for one day a week once she takes on the role of Executive Chair of the MRC.


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