Dame Ottoline Leyser new UKRI chief executive

New CEO will take over ‘at a critical time for the UK’, according to the business secretary

Dame Ottoline Leyser has been appointed chief executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and will replace Sir Mark Walport in June 2020.

Dame Ottoline, a plant biologist and director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, will take control of the funding body on 29 June.

UKRI oversees £7 billion of spending every year and will guide the government’s plan to increase public investment in research and development to £22bn by 2024-25.

By 2027, R&D funding will account for 2.4% of gross domestic product.

The appointment of the new chief executive “comes at a critical time for the UK”, said business secretary Alok Sharma.

“The coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of science for our future and UKRI has a vital role to play in this. As the new chief executive, Professor Leyser will drive forward UKRI’s mission to create the great British companies of the future and help keep the UK at the cutting edge of global research and development,” he added.

Prof Leyser has already led a highly collaborative lab in her previous role which will be a great skill to bring to UKRI as it embarks on a new stage of exciting evolution
– Amanda Solloway

Dame Ottoline currently chairs the Royal Society’s Science Policy Expert Advisory Committee and serves on the Council for Science and Technology. She previously held a lectureship at the University of York from 1994-2010 and was appointed a dame commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours list for services to plant science, science in society and equality and diversity in science.

Her predecessor, Sir Mark, has led the body since it was created in April 2018. In a statement, research minister Amanda Solloway thanked Sir Mark for his “dedication to this role”, adding: “Prof Leyser has already led a highly collaborative lab in her previous role which will be a great skill to bring to UKRI as it embarks on a new stage of exciting evolution.”

Following her appointment, Dame Ottoline said: “UKRI has a unique opportunity to make a profound contribution to tackling the many challenges facing the world.

“During my career, I have seen the power of genuinely collaborative cultures to catalyse the transformative thinking needed to create effective solutions.

“I look forward to working with the UKRI team to ensure that the UK’s superb research and innovation system continues to work for everyone, by pioneering new partnerships, developing innovative funding models and strengthening international collaboration.”

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