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Dr Jonathan Phillips

Rising research star receives prestigious fellowship to develop “molecular movie camera”

One of the new generation of rising research stars at the University of Exeter has received a prestigious national fellowship.

Dr Jonathan Phillips, from Exeter’s Living Systems Institute, has been given a £1.5 million Future Leaders Fellowship, awarded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and announced today (April 23 2020).

Dr Phillips is one of 90 new Fellows – and one of five from the University of Exeter - to be funded through the initiative, which will help researchers and businesses to tackle some of today’s most pressing global challenges.

The research project, called Protein Choreography, will answer key questions in the molecular mechanisms of life and will develop new tools for biotechnology and new therapeutics.

The pioneering project will seek to develop a “molecular movie camera” – studying the movement of protein molecules to understand how enzymes catalyse the processes that underpin life, disease and medicine in the human body.

The project will allow Dr Phillips, and his collaborating researchers at the University of Zurich (Prof. Richard Chahwan), to produce data-driven videos of how proteins are moving and so gain a greater understanding of the processes behind those movements. They will then use that information to design new ‘allosteric’ medicines and new biotechnological tools.

Dr Phillips, who is also a Fellow of The Alan Turing Institute and part of Exeter’s Institute of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, will be given seven year’s funding as part of the scheme.

Dr Phillips said: “This is a tremendous opportunity to dedicate myself to making a step change in the way we view protein molecules. This work aims to understand how the dynamic changes of these tiny molecules underpin living systems and how we can harness that to create new medicines and biotechnologies.”

The Future Leaders Fellowships provide researchers and innovators from diverse backgrounds and career paths with the flexibility and time they need to make progress on truly challenging questions.  

The Fellows will tackle a broad spectrum of challenges and global issues and are encouraged to pursue interdisciplinary and business-linked activities. 

Four to seven years of funding is provided and this stability, combined with commitments from host institutions for ongoing support after the Fellowship, gives researchers the time they need to make progress on truly challenging questions.   

The Future Leaders Fellowships are open to early career researchers in any field of research and innovation across UKRI’s remit. They can come from anywhere in the world to work at a UK institution or business.    

Researchers are encouraged to pursue interdisciplinary and business-linked research. To foster the movement of people and ideas between the academic and business sectors and support excellence wherever it arises, the Fellowships encourage applicants who work with, or be based in, businesses.   

Date: 23 April 2020