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Medical research has a bright future

After nearly eight years at the helm of the MRC as Chief Executive, Professor Sir John Savill steps down at the end of March, just before UK Research and Innovation comes into being on 1 April. Here he reflects on how he’s translated his priorities into research investments which will strengthen the UK research ecosystem for the future.

At the end of this week I will have completed an eventful seven and a half years as CEO of the MRC. Thanks to wonderful support from across the MRC’s extended family, much has been achieved for medical research.

Firstly, the formation of Health Data Research UK with eight other funders will enable us to undertake discovery science in humans by linking longitudinal NHS data from 65 million citizens with biomarker investigations at scale, unravelling human biology and disease mechanisms.

Secondly, the MRC has never been better articulated with industry, with the promise of speedier translation of research into patient benefit and even more impactful contributions to both the health and wealth of the UK.

Thirdly, the MRC has played a key role in re-shaping the UK ecosystem for health research and innovation to promote partnership and added value. To the formation of the Francis Crick Institute and 23 University Unit partnerships, we can add the UK Dementia Research Institute, the UK Prevention Research Partnership, the Biomedical Catalyst and many other successful new collaborations at home and overseas.

Lastly, much that we hold dear has continued to attract MRC investment – studentships, fellowships, investigator-led research grants, Nobel Prize-winning institutes, cohorts such as UK Biobank and international initiatives such as the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership. Furthermore, the MRC has responded rapidly to crises such Ebola, Zika and antimicrobial resistance.

I have learnt much, not least that – thanks to the people who support us, especially the UK taxpayer and successive governments – the MRC continues to be seen internationally as a world-leading organisation.

I look forward to my successor Professor Fiona Watt FRS guiding the MRC into the exciting interdisciplinary environment of UK Research and Innovation as our first Executive Chair. The future is bright and MRC research will continue to change lives for the better.

Sir John Savill

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