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Wellcome Trust taps infectious-disease researcher as new director

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Jeremy Farrar will be the new director of the Wellcome Trust starting in October.

Princeton University

Jeremy Farrar, a clinical infectious-disease researcher, has been appointed to lead the UK Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s largest biomedical research charities.

As director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Farrar has been working on the front lines of emerging infectious-disease research, including the ongoing influenza H7N9 epidemic in China (see ‘Mapping the H7N9 avian flu outbreaks‘).

When he joins the London-based Wellcome Trust on 1 October, he will take the reins of an organization that has over the last decade stepped up its support for biomedical research in the developing world (including for Farrar’s institute).

“I think he’s a very good appointment from many points of view,” says Colin Blakemore, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, UK, and the former director of the UK Medical Research Council. Farrar brokered funding from multiple sources, and his centre’s work on influenza outbreaks — particularly the emergence of H5N1 — required delicate negotiations with countries such as China to obtain samples. “Jeremy’s very much a shrewd team player.”

Farrar’s background fits in well with Wellcome’s interest in the developing world, but Blakemore does not see the appointment necessarily as a sign that the charity will redouble such efforts.

“The only regret that I would express is that this means that his enormous, enormous contribution to clinical science, and particularly to clinical sciences of infectious disease, will presumably be lost,” he adds.

David Heymann, chairman of the advisory board for Public Health England, says that Farrar’s background could bode well for public health and efforts to translate basic research into medical treatments and interventions. “He may bring some new ways of working to the Trust, which would be more oriented toward public health and downstream research, applying tools we have today in addition to developing new tools.”

Ted Bianco, head of technology transfer at Wellcome, will continue to serve as acting director until Farrar’s arrival. The previous director, Mark Walport, left the charity in March to become the UK government’s chief science adviser.

Wellcome spent £701 million (US$1 billion) on research grants and other charitable activities last year, and its endowment stands at £14.5 billion.

For more on Farrar, read Nature’s Q&A with him, from 2009.

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