Update: changed and future roles in the Centre for Amyloidosis and Acute Phase Proteins
Professor Philip Hawkins stepped down as Director of the Centre on 31 July 2019 and was replaced by Professor Julian Gillmore. Professor Hawkins returned in October to continue a central role, as one of the world’s most experienced amyloidosis physicians, expertly informing key aspects of the clinical work and clinical research in the Centre. In particular, he will play a crucial role in maintaining the unique connection between the fundamental scientific discovery research in the Wolfson Drug Discovery Unit and the extraordinary clinical resources of the NAC. This model of conjoined basic science and clinical practice, exemplified by the career of Professor Sir Mark Pepys himself, is the basis of the Centre Sir Mark established on coming to UCL in 1999. It has been critical to our success in the past and will continue to be so in future.
Professor Julian Gillmore, whose MD project was supervised by Professor Hawkins and whose PhD project was supervised by Sir Mark, and who has been a senior member of staff in the NAC for nearly 20 years, is admirably equipped to lead the Centre and to continue and develop its unique attributes. His ground breaking original work, particularly in transthyretin amyloidosis, places the NAC in a pivotal position in the rapidly advancing field of novel and effective drugs for this previously untreatable form of the disease.
Dr Marianna Fontana, who leads the dedicated magnetic resonance imaging facility of the NAC and is the world’s leading expert on cardiac magnetic resonance evaluation of amyloidosis, is the new Deputy Director of the Centre.
Sir Mark’s laboratory is known as the Wolfson Drug Discovery Unit in recognition of the £2 million award he received from the Wolfson Foundation in 2008. The Unit’s core funding comes from the National Institute of Health via the UCL/UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, of which he is one of the Principal Investigators. The current five year period of this funding, more than £1 million, ends on 31 March 2022 and Sir Mark intends to step down as Director of the Unit at that time, handing over to Professor Vittorio Bellotti. Until then, and possibly afterwards, depending on progress in the next two years, Sir Mark will continue to run his drug development programmes. These comprise the NIHR funded (£5.75 million) DESPIAD clinical trial of his drug, miridesap, for Alzheimer’s disease and two other major, fully funded programmes for new potential drugs invented by him and his team.
Professor Vittorio Bellotti was a post-doctoral research fellow in the Pepys laboratory in 1994 and has been a close collaborator ever since, becoming a world leader in amyloidosis research, especially its biochemical and biophysical aspects. Sir Mark recruited Professor Bellotti to join the Wolfson Drug Discovery Unit in 2010, specifically as his chosen successor to lead the laboratory in due course. Professor Bellotti rapidly established his own team in the Unit, working on his own projects, some in close collaboration with Sir Mark. Professor Bellotti’s exciting and productive work has included a series of critically important new discoveries about the mechanisms of amyloid of formation that will underpin new therapeutic developments.