Presentation address by Professor Sheena Radford

Vice-Chancellor,

Cancer – once renowned as the ‘Emperor of all Maladies’ – is today a much less powerful disease thanks to the painstaking, fundamental research of innovative scientists such as Professor Steve Jackson.
Steve was born in Nottingham, the first of his family to go to University.  At a young age Steve decided that he wanted to be a research scientist or an inventor, preferably both.  His ambition was to discover new drugs that extend people’s lives.  Not many in basic science manage this feat.  Impressively, Steve is one of the few who have achieved it, along with much, much more.

Steve graduated from Leeds in 1980 with a first class degree in biochemistry.  Following a PhD at Imperial College and the University of Edinburgh, Steve moved to Berkeley where he started his seminal work on how cells replicate their DNA genomes.  Returning to the UK, Steve was soon offered a prestigious appointment as the Francis James Quick Professorship of Biology at the University of Cambridge.  He was the youngest elected professor in Cambridge at the time since Isaac Newton.

The eureka moment for Steve came when he realised that an enzyme called DNA-PK/Ku might be an opportune target for cancer therapy.  This enzyme acts like a molecular surgeon, repairing the DNA in our cells which is damaged many thousands of times every day.  Steve’s insight was to realise that cancer cells might be selectively killed if he could block this DNA repair mechanism, because cancerous cells are more reliant on DNA repair than normal cells.

Determined that laboratory success should be replicated at the bedside, Steve established a company to develop a drug that is now being used clinically to treat some ovarian cancers and is showing promising results for prostrate, breast and other cancers too.  It is amongst the first of its kind: a medicine that works in women with defects in the BRCA gene and is an example of how a greater understanding of the underlying mechanisms of disease can lead to targeted, personalized medicines.

Steve has recently launched a second company, this time focusing on selectively targeting deubiquitylating enzymes for the treatment of cancer, inflammation, neurodegeneration, muscle wasting and infectious disease.

Steve’s brilliance has long been recognised by the scientific community.  He has been awarded the Biochemical Society’s Colworth Medal, the BBSRC Innovator of the year Award, and the Royal Society’s Buchanan medal.  He is an elected fellow of the European Molecular Biology Organization, the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal Society.

Simply put, Steve stands today as one of the very best professional scientists in the world – and it is a real pleasure to welcome him back to Leeds, where his journey to that pre-eminence began.   Vice-Chancellor, I present to you for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa: Stephen Philip Jackson.