Chris McGuigan, 1958-2016

A skilful and charismatic ‘drug hunter’ has died

April 7, 2016
Obituary: Chris McGuigan, 1958-2016

Chris McGuigan was born in Leeds on 16 August 1958 and studied at the University of Birmingham for a BSc in chemistry and then a PhD in anti-cancer drug design.

He continued his research in Canada and worked as a demonstrator at the University of Exeter before taking on academic posts at University College London and the University of Southampton.

In 1994, he moved to Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences as professor of medicinal chemistry. He would later serve as pro vice-chancellor for research (2012-13).

An exceptionally talented medicinal chemist, Professor McGuigan liked to describe himself as a “drug hunter” and was best known for the Pro-Tide chemical technology that led to new ways of treating cancer and a wide range of viral diseases.

He submitted more than 100 patent applications in total. Highly effective in building international academic networks, he was also acutely aware of the need to build bridges with industry. This would prove extremely useful when he was leading Cardiff’s impact case studies for the research excellence framework.

Professor McGuigan's eminence in the field was recognised when he was appointed to the board of the International Society for Antiviral Research in 2002, and served as its president from 2006 to 2008. After stepping down as a pro vice-chancellor in 2013, he became the first chair of the Life Sciences Hub, designed to promote local business growth in the sector, and directed the Life Sciences Research Network Wales, a £15 million initiative aimed at funding 100 drug discovery projects.

Gary Baxter, head of Cardiff’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, said the university "has lost one of its most charismatic citizens, a world-leading researcher and inspiring teacher…It is rare for an academic scientist in the field of drug discovery to see one invention reach the stage of clinical trial, but Chris saw four of his compounds advance to human trials.”

Although this was partly due to the sheer “brilliance” of his inventions, Professor Baxter added, much of Professor McGuigan’s success also depended on his “masterful…grasp of the complexities of the drug invention process, from design, through preclinical and then human studies, and of the intellectual property processes required to translate the inventions".

"He was undoubtedly a mover and shaker within the academic, industrial and even political spheres that he inhabited," Professor Baxter added.

Professor McGuigan died of cancer on 11 March 2016 and is survived by his wife Maria and two daughters.

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