Sir Mark Walport to retire as UKRI chief executive in 2020

Rheumatologist previously served as government chief scientific adviser and director of Wellcome Trust

September 12, 2019
Sir Mark Walport

Sir Mark Walport has announced that he will retire as chief executive of UK Research and Innovation, the umbrella body for the country’s funding councils, next year.

Sir Mark was appointed to lead the organisation in 2017, before it officially launched the following year. Previously, he served as the UK government’s chief scientific adviser and as director of the Wellcome Trust, the world’s largest medical research charity.

“It has been my great privilege to be able to lead UKRI through the first three years of its development and existence. Creating a new organisation of this importance and scale has been an enormous task,” Sir Mark said.

“I am delighted that UK Research and Innovation is now very much firing on all cylinders and is extremely well placed for its enormously important role as a key element supporting the future of the UK in a fast-changing world.”

Sir Mark said he would remain in post until a successor is appointed and takes over from him during 2020.

As chief executive, he has overseen the movement of the UK’s seven research councils, alongside Innovate UK and Research England, into a single organisation.

The shift, recommended by the Nurse review, is designed to provide greater support for multidisciplinary research and a more strategic approach to addressing major social challenges.

On the same day that Sir Mark announced his retirement, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report that says that UKRI’s formation “created a significant opportunity for improving the strategy and coordination of research funding”.

However, the MPs highlight that the organisation is yet to set out in detail its plans to address issues facing researchers in the UK, such as ethics, evaluation, equality and open access.

Sir John Kingman, chair of UKRI, described Sir Mark as “an extraordinary first leader of UK Research and Innovation”.

“He has successfully realised Paul Nurse’s vision for an organisation which champions Britain’s outstanding research and enormous opportunities for innovation. He has laid great foundations for UKRI’s future, bringing in exceptional talent and securing a very substantial increase in government funding. At UKRI, his will be a formidable act to follow,” Sir John said.

Sir Mark also served as head of the division of medicine at Imperial College London, and did a four-year stint as director of research and development at Hammersmith Hospitals Trust.

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