UK Cypriot Professor Tony Kouzarideshas been awarded a Knighthood for his services to Healthcare Innovation and Delivery.

Professor Tony Kouzarides, Professor of Cancer Biology, Senior Group Leader at the Gurdon Institute and Director and Co-Founder of the Milner Institute, has been awarded a Knighthood for his services to Healthcare Innovation and Delivery. Professor Kouzarides said: “I am delighted to receive this honour, which reinforces the importance of translating basic research into therapies by engaging academic researchers with healthcare businesses.”

As a young child growing up under the hot sun on the island of Cyprus, Tony wanted to be an archaeologist. What drove him then – as it still does now – is the thrill of discovering something new for the very first time, which nobody else knows.

He was 15 when war drove his family as refugees to the UK, and he describes being thrown into a new school in a foreign country as a “baptism by fire”. But he settled well enough to get to university, studying genetics at Leeds. And from there, he made his first foray to Cambridge as a PhD student, studying viruses in the Pathology Department with Professor Tony Minson.

“I was studying a virus that we thought might cause cancer,” Tony explains. “It turned out to be pretty feeble at causing cancer, but it got me interested in cancer genes.” The early 1980s, when Tony was starting out in research, was an exciting time for cancer scientists. They were just beginning to discover the first genes involved in driving the disease, known as oncogenes.

But rather than immediately getting stuck into studying specific cancer genes, Tony went to work with Bart Barrell at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. The scientists there were just starting to explore the data being generated by a relatively new technology – DNA sequencing, which enabled researchers to ‘read’ the molecular ‘letters’ that make up the DNA code.

The idea was that by lining up DNA sequences from different genes – even from different species – it would be possible to spot patterns and similarities that could reveal how they worked and what jobs they might do.

Tony says: “It was a time when we were asking the fundamental question ‘what is a gene and how does it work?’, and I was really interested in transcription – how genes get switched on and off. And I wanted to know how this worked in cancer.”

Tony’s research group has been studying epigenetic modifications for many years, starting with the identification of the first human enzymes to modify chromatin in 1996. His lab has over 200 publications and close to 96,000 citations. A cancer gene identified in his lab has been targeted for drug discovery in a collaboration with STORM Therapeutics, a company co-founded by Tony. This drug is currently in clinical trials against cancer in several hospitals in the USA.

Throughout his research career, Tony has been dedicated to the conversion of science into patient benefit. He has achieved this through his own successful entrepreneurial activities and has created novel institutional paradigms that pave the way for others to do the same. Indeed, one example of this approach is the creation of the Milner Therapeutics Institute (MTI), which engages researchers with pharmaceutical companies, and nurtures the development of therapeutic start-up companies. Tony is also founder and director of Cambridge Gravity, an organization for the promotion of entrepreneurship at the University of Cambridge, founder and ex-director of the Spanish cancer charity Conquer Cancer (Vencer el Cancer), and is a co-founder of four companies: Abcam, Chroma Therapeutics, STORM Therapeutics and VELLOS.

Tony has been elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), Fellow of the British Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci), Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS), and a Fellow of the Cyprus Academy of Science. He has won many awards, including the first ever Excellence in Science medal awarded by the President of Cyprus, which is particularly poignant given that Tony arrived in the UK as a war refugee from Cyprus in 1974.