Professor Chris McGuigan

Elected: 2014

Area(s): Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine & Mathematics

Specialist Subject(s):

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Professor Christopher McGuigan FLSW who died on Friday 11 March 2016, aged 58.

Fellows will have been saddened to learn of the untimely death of Professor Chris McGuigan.  Ironically, in view of his own seminal contributions to treatments of cancer, he succumbed to this disease.

Chris was educated at the University of Birmingham where he obtained a first class degree in Chemistry followed by a PhD on anticancer drugs (1982).  After a spell of research at the University of Alberta (Edmonton), he was appointed Demonstrator at the University of Exeter and then lecturer at University College (London 1985-1990) and the University of Southampton (1990-1994).  In 1994 he came to Wales when he was appointed Reader in the Welsh School of Pharmacy.  Within a year he was Professor and continued to contribute massively to the School as well as Cardiff University ever since.

Research-wise Chris was not only inventive but had a knack of seeing how discoveries could be exploited for health benefits.  The list of diseases that were targeted is large and includes several important viral complaints (measles, shingles, HIV, hepatitis C) as well as osteoarthritis and cancer.  Particularly notable were his invention of a number of ProTide drugs such as phosphoramidate compounds (picked up by several international companies, with five under clinical trials) ASCO 2013-16 the first anti-cancer ProTide drug, FV100 (now in Phase 3 trials against chickenpox (varicella)/shingles) and INX-08189 a very effective anti-hepatitis C virus compound.

This impressive list of successes led in turn to Chris being a founder of Cardiff ProTides, a founding board member of Fermavis Pharmaceuticals and a board member of another four companies.  What a splendid example of ‘impact’ – that new criterion in the REF exercise!

His publications also showed no sign of slacking with some 55 in the last REF period (2008-2013).  Recent notables included description of a novel double prodrug for hepatitis C virus (a highly cited publication in BMCL 20 (2010) 4850), a very effective phosphoramidate prodrug, again for hepatitis C (Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. (2011) 1843), an anti-cancer prodrug (J.Med.Chem. 54 (2011) 7247) and a new method of overcoming cancer resistance (J. Med.Chem. 57 (2014) 1531).  Importantly, Chris’s lab. simultaneously trained over a hundred researchers and, it has to be said, inspired them to continue his good work.

One might expect that, following all this massive activity, Chris would have little time for anything else.  However, his boundless energy and a strong sense of contributing positively to the world meant that Chris made important impacts to the Welsh Government, Cardiff University and to pharmaceutical chemistry in general.  He was a Panel Member for Pharmacy in RAE 2001 and 2008 and Panel Member in Allied Health for REF 2014 and Chair of Cardiff University’s REF Committee, 2010-13.  At the time of his death he was Director of Life Sciences NRN and Chair of Life Sciences Hub, Wales.

Even those who knew Chris will, perhaps, be amazed at how much he managed to do.  But he did it all with so much enthusiasm and integrity.  When I was wondering who could follow me as President of the Cardiff Scientific Society, I approached Chris and, despite his large commitments, he agreed without hesitation – just the sort of position where his inspiration could be put to excellent use!  Chris was an exceptional scientist but, even more important, an exceptional man.  A person who believed passionately in research, but also in the truth.  He would gently put you on the right track in a polite but firm way and was not intimidated by those who could not accept criticism, no matter justified it was.  I consider it a real privilege to have known him.  The world is all the poorer for his death.

Professor John Harwood DSc FLSW