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An Interview with the MRC Millennium Medal 2020 winner: Professor Sir Rory Collins

by Guest Author on 17 Mar 2021

In December 2020, Professor Sir Rory Collins was announced as the MRC Millennium Medal 2020 winner. Here Sarah Trenfield, a Strategic Stakeholder Engagement Manager at the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the lead of the MRC Millennium Medal competition, explores Sir Rory’s career and research successes to date during a virtual interview. The full-length interview and video digests can be accessed on the MRC YouTube channel.

Earlier this year, I was delighted to interview Sir Rory Collins, a British Heart Foundation (BHF) Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and Head of the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford and the Chief Executive of UK Biobank. Sir Rory is the latest recipient of the MRC Millennium Medal 2020; MRC’s most prestigious personal prize awarded annually to an outstanding researcher that demonstrates scientific excellence and impact. As the lead of the MRC Millennium Medal competition, I was keen to find out more about Sir Rory’s 40-year career and the research achievements which led him to being awarded the 2020 Medal.

Sir Rory Collins, Recipient of the MRC Millennium Medal 2020

World-Leader in Clinical Trials

Sir Rory began his career in 1974 studying medicine followed by statistics and, as a young doctor, he fell in love with combining both disciplines by working in randomised controlled trials. A main reason that Sir Rory was awarded the MRC Millennium Medal was due to his outstanding contributions within cardiovascular disease which changed the face of global medical practice. During the 1980s, he led the ‘ISIS-2 (Second International Study of Infarct Survival) megatrials for the emergency treatment of heart attacks which showed that prompt treatment using streptokinase (a clot-dissolving therapy) with aspirin (a clot-preventing therapy) reduced mortality by 50%. He also led the MRC / BHF Heart Protection Study in the 1990s which showed for the first time that statins were safe and effective for the prevention of heart attacks and strokes. Both studies led to the use of these revolutionary treatments being widely prescribed, saving thousands of lives globally.

Stewardship of UK Biobank

Sir Rory was also recognised due to his visionary leadership of UK Biobank, which is a world-renowned prospective study which contains in-depth genetic and health information from half a million UK participants (aged 40 – 69 on recruitment). This resource has advanced the understanding of a wide range of life-threatening diseases and was a critical resource during the COVID-19 pandemic, with work on testing, screening and understanding the acute and long-term health impacts of COVID-19 being carried out. Such achievements truly demonstrate the dedication that Sir Rory has to MRC’s mission of improving human health through world-class medical research.

Sarah Trenfield, Strategic Stakeholder Engagement Manager at MRC and the lead of the MRC Millennium Medal competition

An Inspiration for All

As someone early on in my career at the MRC, it was truly inspiring to hear about Sir Rory’s research journey and his transition from a young doctor into a world-renowned clinical academic. It is safe to say that Sir Rory is an outstanding individual and his achievements wonderfully demonstrate the power of medical research in saving and improving patients’ lives around the world. It was an honour to have interviewed Sir Rory and he is truly a worthy winner of the MRC Millennium Medal 2020.

To find out more about Sir Rory’s research, a digest of the interview is available on MRC Twitter and, to watch the full interview, please visit the MRC YouTube channel.


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