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'Tough' chief to defend MRC

John Savill will helm the UK Medical Research Council.

The appointment of John Savill has been well received by the biomedical community. Credit: Univ. Edinburgh

Britain's biomedical establishment has given an enthusiastic welcome to the incoming chief executive of the Medical Research Council (MRC).

John Savill was named last week as the man who will steer the agency through a round of public-spending cuts expected this autumn. In 2008–09, the government-funded agency spent £704.2 million (US$1.1 billion) on research, making it one of Europe's largest national supporters of biomedical research. But all of Britain's research councils recently drew up strategies to deal with cuts of up to 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 learned society the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Savill, who is currently head of the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, UK, is also chief scientific adviser for health to the Scottish government. He will replace Leszek Borysiewicz, who is leaving the MRC to become vice-chancellor at the University of Cambridge, UK. Borysiewicz's departure, one year before his four-year term was due to expire, had prompted concerns that a power vacuum at the top of the agency might allow the government's Department of Health to steer it away from basic science and into more applied biomedical work (see Nature 462, 553; 2009). The appointment may assuage those concerns — colleagues say that Savill commands the respect of basic researchers and of clinicians, and knows the importance of both. "That is essential to secure the future of the MRC," says Colin Blakemore, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, UK, and Borysiewicz's predecessor at the MRC.

Savill trained as a medical doctor and was formerly head of Edinburgh's MRC Centre for Inflammation Research. "John is very experienced at working at the clinical–basic science interface," says Kay Davies, honorary director of the MRC Functional Genomics Unit and head of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at the University of Oxford. "He is tough and dedicated to the scientific enterprise."

Savill, who was not available for interview, will start at the MRC on 1 October.

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Cressey, D. 'Tough' chief to defend MRC. Nature 466, 675 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/466675b

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