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Chris McGuigan (1958-2016)

Posted By Society ; Date APR 10, 2016

Christopher (Chris) McGuigan, a member of the Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and a successful antiviral/anticancer drug developer, passed away on March 11, 2016.

Chris was born in 1958 in the United Kingdom. He graduated as Bachelor of Science in 1979 from the University of Birmingham, UK, and received his PhD in Anti-cancer Drug Design in 1982 at the same University. Chris then performed a post-doctoral stay in Prof. Morris Robins’ Laboratory before he became Lecturer at University College London from 1985 till 1990. After being at the University of Southampton between 1990 and 1994, he took a position as Reader at the Welsh School of Pharmacy in Cardiff, where he was appointed one year later as Professor. In 2007, Chris was elected as President of the International Society of Antiviral Research (ISAR), a duty he performed with much care and enthusiasm. In 2012, he became Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation at University of Cardiff, followed in 2013 as Director of the Life Sciences National Research Network. In 2014, Chris was appointed as Chair of the Welsh Life Sciences Hub. Recently, he became a Member of the Welsh Life Sciences Investment Fund and the Welsh Life Sciences Bridging Fund.

He acted as a Board Member of Tiziana Life Sciences, Contravir Pharma and Synergy Pharma, and was appointed in 2015 as Chief Scientific Officer of NuCana that has several of McGuigan’s nucleotide prodrugs under clinical development.

A wide variety of phosphoramidate ProTides were designed and invented by Chris to allow or optimize intracellular drug delivery and to circumvent metabolic bottlenecks in the activation of nucleoside-based antiviral and anticancer drugs. Making use of his technology at least four of his designed drugs have entered clinical trials to date, including Acelarin, being in Phase III clinical trials for ovarian cancer, and NUC3373 being in Phase I clinical trials for solid tumors (i.e. breast and colon cancer).

Chris is also a co-inventor of a highly potent and selective anti-shingles drug and its phosphoramidate prodrug, originating from a long-standing tight collaboration with scientists at the Rega Institute of the KU Leuven in Leuven, Belgium. This prodrug is currently included in Phase III clinical trials for varicella zoster virus/shingles treatment.

The drug INX-189 was invented by Chris for specific hepatitis C virus treatment. Although this drug successfully proceeded to Phase II clinical trials, the drug was not further pursued due to unexpected side-effects when trialled in conjunction with another drug.


Finally, Chris also co-invented new glucosamine phosphates with potential use in osteoarthritis.

Chris’s scientific output resulted in several hundred peer reviewed papers that appeared in established and well-known journals in his research field.

Chris was the recipient of many Honors and Awards, including the prestigious European Commission’s René Descartes Prize for European Scientific Collaboration (joint Award with five other collaborative European Teams) (2001), the first ever Recipient of the William Prusoff Award of the International Society for Antiviral Research (2001), the GlaxoSmithKline International Achievement Award (2004), the 2006 Royal Society of Chemistry Industry sponsored Award in Medicinal Chemistry (this triannual award was given for his “ impressive contributions to antiviral and anticancer medicinal chemistry, and to innovative prodrug methods, that have led to clinical candidate drugs“), the Cardiff University Innovation Prize for the discovery and design of FV100, a powerful drug for the treatment of shingles (2008) and the Cardiff University Business Innovation Award (2012), among several others.

These numerous Awards and Prizes for his scientific/business achievements reflect the importance and impact of his research on science and human health.

In 2013, Chris was invited by the Welsh Minister for Economy, Science and Transport to design, establish and chair the Life Sciences Hub Wales (2013), a major business growth facility for Wales and a major focal and reference point for UK life science business. Also, under his Directorship, the National Research Network supported over one hundred projects across Wales in drug discovery for unmet medical needs covering cancer, infectious diseases, neurology, and some other important research areas.

Chris was an exceptionally bright medicinal chemist/scientist with a very broad background and insights in different human health research fields. Always extremely motivated, enthusiastic and driven, always displaying a very open mind to acquire and apply the newest relevant technologies, always very critical in the positive and constructive sense of the word, always tirelessly working, and always very collaborative in any research field that could generate interesting results and perspectives to improve human health.

Chris had a good sense of feeling to work on (pro)drug derivatives that have a good chance to be active against particular viruses or cancer, or on those existing drugs that are susceptible for treatment optimization through his designed ProTide technology to benefit human health.

Beside his impressive scientific achievements, Chris was outstanding in efficiently managing an extensive research team of scientists derived from different nationalities and locations all over the world. He was highly demanding and extremely “punctual“, but a master in motivating his team members. At his annual “Laboratory Away Day“ event where his PhD and Post-Doc collaborators had to present an overview of their results and future plans, and to which occasion he always invited a foreign expert in the field to judge the data results, it was amazing to see how the students and collaborators were inspired and “infected “ by his driven mentality and enthusiasm. Eventually, he has trained within his research team over hundred researchers including more than 45 PhD students.

Chris also possessed the art of teaching in a very didactical and entertaining manner making use of the wide possibilities that computer technology could offer, to translate, visualize and express his views. He could adequately explain scientific results and their potential implications to an audience of both scientists and non-scientists as nobody else could do. He undoubtedly belonged amongst those few persons who had the capacity to combine both such outstanding scientific and didactical skills.

On top of all this, Chris was an exceptionally fine, warm, charming and generous person with profound social and entertaining abilities. At meetings, he was often in the center of attention and always had fun stories to tell about personal experiences. Needless to say that often a close friendship originated with many colleagues he collaborated with. It has always been an enormous privilege to interact with Chris and to be able to so closely collaborate for many years with him and his fantastic research team.

Chris died far too early. He still had many ideas to work out, and so many responsibilities that directly had an impact on the advancement of science and human health. He deserves all our deep respect and gratitude for so many things that he achieved and for the numerous unforgettable interactions we had on many occasions.

Chris is survived by his wonderful wife Maria and his two lovely young daughters Phoebe and Grace. He will be intensely missed by all of us.


Prof. Jan Balzarini, Prof. Maria-José Camarasa, Prof. Anna Karlsson and Prof. Carlo-Federico Perno, also on behalf of their respective research teams

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