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Preferred candidate chosen for the role of Executive Chair of the MRC

18 Dec 2017

Professor Fiona Watt FRS has been selected as the government’s preferred candidate to be the Executive Chair of the 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 where she leads a team of 80 academic researchers; she is internationally recognised in her field, with expertise in the stem cells of healthy and diseased skin.

Commenting on the announcement, 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.”

Having been in office since October 2010, the MRC’s current Chief Executive, Sir John Savill, will step down from his role at the end of March 2018 before UKRI is launched.

He said: “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”.

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.

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.

Further information

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


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