Infectious diseases researcher Jeremy Farrar will take over the reins at the Wellcome Trust, the United Kingdom's most important private funder of medical research. Farrar is now heading the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where he has done research on drug resistance in tuberculosis and other diseases. The trust announced today that he will become director on 1 October.
Farrar is "an extraordinary guy", says Nicholas White, a malaria researcher at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and Mahidol University in Bangkok, who set up the Vietnam lab in 1991 and has known Farrar for almost 18 years. "He understands science and he understands people," says White, who praises the Wellcome Trust for picking him. "It's a very important job not just for U.K. science but for global medical research. Very few people have the ability to do it well and he is one of them." Farrar succeeds Mark Walport, who had left the post in March to become the U.K. government's chief science adviser.
The Wellcome Trust, established in 1936 from the estate of pharmaceutical magnate Henry Wellcome, is an independent charity that funds biomedical research. Endowed with more than $22 billion, it spends about $1 billion annually.
Farrar, who now receives funding from the Wellcome Trust, has been intimately involved with some of the most dreaded viruses. In 2003, he lost a good friend, Italian parasitologist Carlo Urbani of the World Health Organization's Hanoi office, to SARS. In January 2004, he was part of a team of researchers that diagnosed the first human case of H5N1 avian influenza in Vietnam. In recent weeks, he has collaborated in an effort to analyze travel patterns between China and the rest of the world, which may help predict how the novel H7N9 influenza virus might spread if it becomes pandemic.
In the statement released by the trust, Farrar calls his future employer "one of the world's outstanding philanthropic institutions and one of the UK's most remarkable national assets." "As a scientist who is grateful to have received Trust funding for my own work, I know first-hand how its flexible support makes such achievements possible," he said.
Neuropharmacologist David Nutt, who has worked as the U.K. government's drug adviser, says that although he doesn't know Farrar personally, the appointment is "clearly good news for infectious diseases research and the global influence of the Wellcome Trust. … One hopes that he will put his great enthusiasm to the broader research portfolio."
William Castell, chair of the Wellcome Trust, praised Farrar in a statement as "one of the foremost scientists of his generation, whose work—much of it funded by the Trust—has contributed to better understanding, surveillance, prevention and treatment of diseases including emerging infections, influenza, tuberculosis, typhoid and dengue."
Ted Bianco, the trust's director of technology transfer, will continue to serve as acting director until October.