Introducing our new Director of Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance Business Development


By Joyce Yu | Friday 22 July 2022

Prof John Davis has been appointed as the Director of Business Development at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance (DDA). This is a newly created role to further the coordination of efforts across the three Institutes within the Drug Discovery Alliance and Alzheimer’s Research UK’s other drug discovery initiatives. Ultimately, the aim is to accelerate the drug discovery process in order to bring life-changing treatments to people with dementia as soon as possible.

We caught up with John to find out more about his background and the work he will be doing at the Drug Discovery Alliance.

What has been your career path to date?

At the start I followed a traditional academic route, as a postdoctoral researcher at Ludwig institute for Cancer Research and then a Fellowship at The Salk Institute, but I had always had an eye on a career in the pharmaceutical industry – my ambition has always been to discover drugs.

So I joined a company called SmithKline Beecham in 1993 and enjoyed a long stint working on neurological diseases in the pharma industry.

This culminated in the founding, with a group of colleagues, of Convergence Pharmaceuticals which was a spin-out company based on a portfolio of projects focused on drugs to treat pain.  That was hard work and great fun.

Fortunately, the company was successful and set the scene for me to become involved in other biotechnology enterprises and, ultimately, the Alzheimer’s Research UK Oxford Drug Discovery Institute (DDI).

It is a privilege to work with Alzheimer’s Research UK and the dedicated staff who make it such a vibrant charity.

Tell us about your new role and your vision as the Director of Business Development.

The Drug Discovery Alliance is a tremendously successful enterprise. It is amazing what the three institutes, at Oxford, Cambridge and UCL, have achieved, from a standing start, in a little over six years.

It is not just the science and projects delivered but also the influence on the universities in which the institutes are embedded. There has been a significant impact in terms of raising awareness of, and capability in, drug discovery within the academic environment.

I think we can do more, though. Collectively, we represent a force of about 100 staff with a diverse set of skills and an extensive network of collaborators, which represents a significant capability.

My role is to build on the successes and extend the reach and impact of the Drug Discovery Alliance as a whole, translating breakthroughs in the lab to life-changing treatments, bringing hope to people living with dementia.

To start with, there are some quick wins in terms of improving the visibility of the DDA, initiatives to forge closer operational links between the three Drug Discovery Institutes (DDIs), and workstreams with the UK Dementia Research Institute.

Longer-term I would like to see industrial partnerships that engage the whole DDA and are able to capitalise swiftly on its combined strengths.

The whole objective is to accelerate the transition of new therapeutic ideas into and through our translational pipeline.

Were you always interested in drug discovery?

Yes, I love the quest, the continuous challenge and the surprises.  The sense of achievement when you discover a new facet of biology or an effective molecule is tremendous.

Why are there so few treatments for dementia compared to other diseases?

First and foremost because it is a disease of the brain, the most mysterious and complex of our organs, and because it is difficult to sample from. We still have so much to learn about the basic biology of the brain.

The good news, however, is that accelerating technology is continually providing new ways of analysing humans. I firmly believe that we will see significant advances in treatments in the next decade.

Forthcoming results for the first trials of drugs that have arisen as a direct result of the population genetics research of the last ten years are tremendously exciting.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Messing around with anything that floats on water.  I like to get to the coast as often as possible.

What is the one thing you can’t live without?

Simply spending time with friends and family.  They provide me with a raison d’être.

And wine, of course!

Find out more about the Drug Discovery Alliance.


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Joyce Yu