The new head of the UK’s Medical Research Council is to be John Savill, Nature has learned.
Savill is currently head of the University of Edinburgh/MRC Centre for Inflammation Research and is also the chief scientist for Scotland. He will replace Leszek Borysiewicz, who is leaving to become vice-chancellor at the University of Cambridge.
The early departure of Borysiewicz prompted concern from some researchers, as many have long feared that the Department of Health may try to push the MRC towards performing more biomedical work at the expense of basic science [see Nature 462, 553 (2009)].
Savill’s appointment should go some way to assuaging those concerns as colleagues say he commands the respect of both basic researchers and clinicians, and knows the importance of the work of both.
“You’ve given me a nice piece of news. It’s excellent,” said Colin Blakemore, the University of Oxford neuroscientist who was Borysiewicz’s predecessor at the MRC, when told of the appointment. “He had credentials from both sides, like Leszek Borysiewic did. That is essential to secure the future of the MRC.”
Savill originally trained as a medical doctor and was vice principal and head of Edinburgh’s College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine for a number of years. He has also previously been a member of the MRC’s Council.
Kay Davies, director of the MRC Functional Genomics Unit and head of the Physiology Anatomy and Genetics Department at the University of Oxford, adds, “John is very experienced at working at the clinical-basic science interface and knows the challenges through his work on MRC Council. He is tough and dedicated to the scientific enterprise. I am delighted with his appointment.”
In addition to fending off the Department of Health, he will likely have to contend with a dramatically reduced budget for the research council, as the government aims to slash 25% from departmental budgets. All of the UK’s research councils recently drew up plans to deal with three scenarios: frozen budgets, cuts of 10% and cuts of 20% over four years [see Nature 466, 420-421 (2010)].
“I find it hard to think of anybody else who is better able to defend the MRC,” says Keith Peters, former president of the Academy of Medical Sciences and currently a consultant for Glaxo SmithKline.
Both the Medical Research Council and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills declined to comment on the appointment until an official announcement has been made.