Nobelist and ex-vaccines chief join newly established Aria

Sir David MacMillan and Dame Kate Bingham join board as ‘high-risk, high-reward’ starts work

January 27, 2023
Ilan Gur

A Nobel prizewinner and the former chair of the UK’s Covid vaccine taskforce have been added to the board of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria), as the “high-risk, high-reward” funder was formally established.

The UK government said that Sir David MacMillan, James S. McDonnell distinguished university professor of chemistry at Princeton University and winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, would join Aria’s board as a non-executive director alongside Dame Kate Bingham, managing partner at SV Health Investors and former chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce.

Also joining the board are Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser; Sarah Hunter, global director of public policy at Alphabet subsidiary X, the Moonshot Factory; and Stephen Cohen, who has more than 40 years’ experience in asset management.

They will sit alongside chief executive Ilan Gur, chair Matt Clifford – both technology start-up leaders – and newly appointed chief financial and operations officer Antonia Jenkinson.

The appointments were announced as Aria was formally established as an independent body. With a budget of £800 million, the agency is envisaged as a vehicle to fund risky early-stage blue-sky research in the same way that the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) supported work that led to the development of the internet, driverless cars and drones.

The intention is to put funding decisions directly into the hands of experts in their respective fields and to use “innovative and flexible” funding models, including seed grants and prize incentives, with the power to start and stop projects according to their success.

George Freeman, the science minister, said that transformational discoveries came “from world-class scientists and labs with the freedom to explore the unknown”.

“We have set up Aria as an £800 million global superlab to do just that through frontier science and technology,” he said.

Dr Gur said that he “could not imagine a better board of directors to oversee Aria’s formation”.

“Guided by their experience and judgement, Aria will make bold bets that leverage the strengths of the UK research system to drive world-changing breakthroughs,” he said.

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