Professor Chris Abell is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and the Professor of Biological Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. He was an undergraduate and graduate at Cambridge, where he did his PhD on polyketide biosynthesis with Jim Staunton. He then spent a postdoctoral year in the USA with Professor David Cane studying terpene enzymology, before returning to an academic post at Cambridge. In the mid-1980s he set up a molecular biology lab to clone enzymes involved in tetrapyrrole assembly. Thereafter he spent many years studying the mechanisms of enzymes on the shikimate and pantothenate pathways. In the late 1990s, Professor Abell became interested in nanotechnology and scanning probe microscopy, eventually leading to pioneering work on microdroplets as a novel experimental platform, and resulted in him co-founding Sphere Fluidics (2010) and Aqdot (2013).
Professor Abell’s main research focus is on using fragment-based methods in drug discovery and chemical biology, with a specific focus on tuberculosis and cystic fibrosis. In 1999, he co-founded Astex with Harren Jhoti and Sir Tom Blundell, which became the world-leading company in fragment-based drug discovery. Astex was acquired by Otsuka in 2013 and has already played a key role in the discovery of two anti-cancer drugs: Kisqali (2017) and Balversa (2019).
He has published over 330 papers and is an inventor on numerous patents. He was a founding director of Cambridge Enterprise and from 2013–2015 he was the first Director of Postdoctoral Affairs in the University. Professor Abell was elected into the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2012 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2016.