Dr Jon Houseley, Group leader in the Epigenetics research programme, has been appointed as the new Head of Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation (KEC). He takes over from Dr Simon Cook, who recently became the Institute’s Interim Director. The KEC team works to maximise the impact of the Institute by engaging with stakeholders in the commercial bioscience, clinical, charitable and policy sectors.
Dr Simon Cook, Interim Institute Director, welcomed Jon to his new role “I am pleased to announce that Jon Houseley will take over as Head of Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation. As well as his own burgeoning interests in working with the Biotech and Pharma sector, I’m sure Jon will bring his customary enthusiasm and eye for detail to this role.”
Dr Houseley joined the Babraham Institute in 2009 as a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow and runs a group in the Epigenetics research programme. Dr Houseley has been a member of the KEC committee for four years, acting as the KEC champion for the Epigenetics research group.
In the profile below Jon talks about his experience so far and plans going forward as Head of Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation.
Where does your interest in knowledge exchange and commercialisation come from?
The yeast research community in which I trained is very open, with information and reagents freely exchanged, and I am very keen on the idea that knowledge gained through research, beyond that which directly forms publications, is readily available to those who need it. At the simplest this is just better sharing of reagents and ways of working, but more generally it encompasses passing on more of the knowledge and skills we gain (often without necessarily realising) in the form of training or consultancy or policy advice.
In terms of commercialisation, my lab’s research into adaptation and ageing in yeast is not so readily applied. However, we used some of these concepts to form a long running and productive collaboration with the the Cook lab at Babraham and Oncology R&D at AstraZeneca, investigating emergence of resistance against chemotherapeutics targeting the RAS-RAF-MEK-ERK1/2 pathway. We also have a collaboration with Artios Pharma studying the impact of DNA Damage Response inhibitors on DNA replication and genome stability.
How has your understanding of KEC changed as you’ve become more involved?
I guess when I joined the KEC committee I was a little naïve about what does, and does not, constitute KEC, and have come to understand the purpose of KEC and why it is so valued by our funders. I have learnt how the team support staff in developing their own skill set and translating their findings, I helped review many KEC funding applications and discussed potential industry collaborations. This has increased my familiarity with the skills available in different parts of the Institute, the translational science we undertake and the ways in which we interact with partner organisations.
What are some of the challenges of commercialisation?
I very much enjoy working with commercial partners and discussing the application of our research. There is a perceived tension between academic and commercial science, which I view as unnecessary; both sides have different but complementary skills – blue sky research can yield new drug targets and inventive approaches, but the expertise to turn these ideas into safe and effective drugs resides in industry.
How are you feeling about your new role, what are you excited about?
My experience on the KEC committee provided a great introduction to Institute’s translational activities. I feel a fair amount of trepidation at taking on the Head of KEC role but I am excited about the schemes we have in the pipeline! We are working to widen our collaborations with Campus companies, and we are developing an exciting new start-up with a therapeutic for a widespread but currently untreatable disease. Beyond this, we are starting to think about KEC challenges and opportunities for the future: how can we effectively commercialise the Institute’s ageing research? How can we better use KEC funds for collaborative projects? How can we build on the normalisation of virtual meetings during COVID-19 to design knowledge exchange activities that minimise travel, thereby reducing our carbon footprint and making activities more family friendly?
Dr Houseley studied for his PhD at the University of Glasgow before joining the Tollervey Lab at the Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology in Edinburgh to investigate the roles of non-coding RNA in controlling the stability of repetitive DNA. Jon joined the Babraham Institute in 2009 as a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow, and is now a tenured group leader in the Epigenetics Programme.
Honor Pollard, Communications Officer, email@example.com
Image description: Image of interconnecting cogs inscribed with the words: success, exchange, collaboration, assist and inspiration. Shutterstock ID: 733500280.
About the Babraham Institute
The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through Institute Strategic Programme Grants and an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £451 million in world-class bioscience in 2019-20. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
25 November 2021