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UKCMRI Taps Sir Paul Nurse as Inaugural Director and Chief Executive

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation has appointed the chair of its Scientific Planning Committee to be its inaugural director and chief executive, effective Jan. 1, 2011.

Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel laureate and the president of New York's Rockefeller University since 2003, will oversee the institute's projected 1,500 employees, including 1,250 scientists, and an annual operating budget estimated at £100 million ($153.7 million).

UKCMRI is a £600 million research partnership whose members are Cancer Research UK or CRUK, the Wellcome Trust, University College London, and the Medical Research Council. The partnership is working to develop a controversial new 79,000-square-metre (850,000-square-foot) building, in the shape of a pair of chromosomes, in London.

Nurse "will be crucial to realizing the Centre's focus on turning fundamental discoveries about health and disease into new diagnostic, preventative and therapeutic strategies that directly benefit patients," Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said in a statement.

Nurse — who has also been elected the next President of the Royal Society — is a co-winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with Tim Hunt, a researcher at CRUK's London Research Institute; and Leland (Lee) Hartwell, president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Two years earlier, Nurse was knighted for his work in cancer research and cell biology.

Nurse's research focuses on controls of cell division and cell shape in yeast. It has led to the identification of cyclin-dependent kinases as the key molecules that regulate the process by which cells make copies of themselves, a discovery that is important for understanding growth, development and cancer.

Nurse also served as director general of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. There, he played a key role in the fund's merger with the Cancer Research Campaign, forming CRUK, which he went on to lead as chief executive.

According to a scientific vision and research strategy outline released last month, UKCMRI will maintain "a strong focus" on cancer, heart disease, and stroke, as well as disorders of the immune system and later-life diseases of the nervous system.

UKCMRI has said development of the center and its scientific vision will continue despite a cut in its government funding that followed election in May of the UK's new coalition government headed by Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party. The government slashed funding this year on the UKCMRI to £17 million, from £250 million promised for 2010 by the previous Labour Party government.

The government insists it is committed to UKCMRI, and has promised to spend the remaining £233 million on UKCMRI in phases over the next five years.

UKCMRI's plan has been opposed by many residents living near the planned site, citing the center's plans to operate a high category 3 lab; test on smaller animals; and exclude housing.

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