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Scientist Focus: Prof Paul Whiting

Dr Laura PhippsKirsty MaraisClaire LucasRobin BrisbourneKaty StubbsEd PinchesGlyn Morris

We caught up with the new Chief Scientific Officer of the Alzheimer’s Research UK University College London Drug Discovery Institute. As Chief Scientific Officer, Prof Paul Whiting will drive the progress of the Drug Discovery Institute. He’ll lead the search for promising new ideas that can be developed into the drugs of tomorrow.

Tell us about how your research career

SF-DDI-PWI did my PhD in London and then moved to San Diego in the USA for four years, studying a protein in the brain called the nicotine receptor, which is responsible for nicotine addiction. I then moved out of academia and into industrial research looking for treatments for neurological diseases because I wanted to do research that was closer to delivering direct benefits for patients.

I spent 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry focussed on finding treatments for brain diseases. More recently my work was looking at age-related macular degeneration. This disease is the major cause of blindness in our ageing population. With collaborators at UCL, I explored a new approach using stem cell-based therapy, to look at ways to repair damage in the eye, and I was very proud that we managed to progress this new therapy to testing in patients.

What made you want to move into dementia research?

The Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance is a fantastic opportunity to work with world leading scientists on such a key unmet medical need.

What do you hope to achieve at the UCL Drug Discovery Institute?

I hope that we can really add to the effort to find new treatments for dementia. The opportunity to translate the world-class science we have in our universities into new medicines is very exciting and hugely important.

Why do you think academic researchers should get involved in drug discovery?

I think academic researchers should do the best science they can to understand human biology, and what goes wrong in human disease, and then we will work with them to turn that knowledge into new treatments.

What advice would you give to any young scientists just starting out their careers?

Love what you do. For every one “eureka moment” there are 100s of “head in hands” moments. That’s the nature of scientific research. You have to have dogged determination and the ability to bounce back. Keep the excitement.

If you weren’t doing dementia research now, what would you be doing?

I think I’d be a medical doctor. I almost retrained as a neurologist when I finished my post-doctoral research but I didn’t want to do all the exams! But now I’m working with some of the top neurologists in the country at UCL.

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