Experienced Global Pharma Industry Leader, Prof Fiona Randall, joins the Alzheimer’s Research UK UCL Drug Discovery Institute as Chief Scientific Officer

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By Quang Tran | Wednesday 02 November 2022

Prof Fiona Randall has been appointed as Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) for Alzheimer’s Research UK’s University College London Drug Discovery Institute (UCL DDI). She will relocate back to the UK from Boston, USA, with her family to take this role where she will lead a talented team of medicinal chemists and drug discovery experts to deliver and continue to build a portfolio of innovative treatment approaches for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The UCL DDI is part of the Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance, an initiative that promotes the discovery and validation of new therapies for dementia. It is one of three dedicated neurodegenerative Drug Discovery Institutes embedded in the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and UCL.

Fiona succeeds Prof Paul Whiting, who retired earlier this year. Prof Whiting established the UCL DDI and led the Institute for the last seven years.

Fiona brings to the UCL DDI a broad range of experience in neurology drug discovery, strategic partnering, and global research management, including experience in integrating scientific evidence to drive decisions and how to critically evaluate data.

After gaining a PhD in Neuroscience at Newcastle University in 2008, she spent two years at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, before moving to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. She has held various roles in drug discovery and strategic partnering in China, the UK and the USA (including Merck, Sharpe and Dohme, GSK, Eisai, Vertex).

Fiona transitioned from bench work into leadership roles and has led multiple cross-discipline, scientific projects exploring therapeutic targets for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions, as well as leading a range of strategic partnerships for different diseases. Most recently, Fiona has been a drug discovery and strategic partnering consultant through her own company, FireWire Consulting LLC, for a range of small biotechnology companies where she has supported late-stage preclinical research programs and contributed to regulatory filings.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:

“We want to thank Prof Paul Whiting for his incredible work to build the Alzheimer’s Research UK’s UCL Drug Discovery Institute into a world-class programme within the dementia research ecosystem. His legacy includes forming a spin-off company with an initial investment of £7.5m, based on the teams work on astrocytes, as well as countless other achievements that have strengthened the state of dementia research in the UK. We wish him well in his retirement.

“We are excited to work with Fiona in her new role as Chief Scientific Officer of the UCL Drug Discovery Institute. As well as developing potential drugs already in the pipeline towards larger stage clinical trials, Fiona will lead the search for promising new ideas that can be developed into the drugs of tomorrow. Accelerating new treatments for dementia is something the nearly one million people living in the UK with the condition desperately need, and we’re incredibly grateful to our supporters for having the foresight to back this vital Institute and the wider Alliance it is part of.

Prof Fiona Randall, Chief Scientific Officer of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s University College London Drug Discovery Institute said:

“I’m excited to head up this talented team of drug discovery experts at UCL and continue to discover and develop innovative treatments for people with neurodegenerative diseases. I watched my Granny slowly slip away with Alzheimer’s disease and since then I’ve been fascinated by the human brain and motivated to build understanding of complex neurological diseases and find new therapeutics. Being embedded within the rich neuroscience research and clinical environment of UCL and the Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance, and with our industry-like infrastructure, we are incredible well positioned to translate novel ideas into medicines. This is a fantastic opportunity to work with world-leading scientists on such a key unmet medical need, and we have a lot of work to do in delivering existing and building new projects and partnerships.”

The UCL DDI is housed in the heart of UCL’s Bloomsbury Campus and is part of the Queen Square Institute of Neurology. As such, the ARUK UCL DDI draws on a wealth of disease expertise to generate well validated targets and optimised leads.

Prof Gipi Schiavo, Deputy Director of UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology said:

“The Alzheimer’s Research UK’s UCL Drug Discovery Institute brings the academic expertise of the world-leading research happening at UCL together with renowned drug discovery experts, all under one roof. As well as attracting leveraged funding, the Institute’s scientists act as catalysts to bridge the knowledge gap between pharma and academia, allowing us to identify potentially effective treatments for several neurodegenerative conditions that collectively affect millions of patients worldwide. On behalf of Professor Mike Hanna, Director of the Queen Square Institute of Neurology, and Professor Alan Thompson, Dean of the Faculty of Brain Science and UCL’s Pro Provost for London, I would like to congratulate Dr Randall on leading this crucial initiative and welcome her to the UCL family.”

The UCL Drug Discovery Institute has a rich portfolio of novel small molecule drug discovery programs targeting various pathophysiological and genetically validated targets for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. In her new role, Fiona and her team will continue to develop and expand this portfolio of potential therapeutics.

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Quang Tran