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Resignations at the top of UK R&D

Several leading figures have announced recently that they are stepping down from their roles

Leaders in the UK R&D sector keep announcing plans to step down, with three notable figures doing so this year already.

Here, Research Professional News looks at some of the main announcements made over the past few months.

Chief of UKRI

Ottoline Leyser is not seeking a second term as chief executive of the national funder UK Research and Innovation. She will step down at the end of June 2025.

During Leyser’s tenure, UKRI has come under pressure to reduce its bureaucracy and operational expenditure, even as its budget has grown. It has also weathered multiple changes of minister and recently became embroiled in a political row around an equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group.

For her period in charge, Leyser is on secondment from a professorship at the University of Cambridge, where she leads a group researching plant physiology.

Chief of Innovate UK

Indro Mukerjee, chief executive of Innovate UK, will be stepping down in September after three years in the role.

“I have decided to conclude my role as chief executive of Innovate UK at the end of September this year,” he wrote in a January blogpost on the funder’s website.

The announcement did not mention the reasons for his departure, nor where he is going next. Research Professional News has asked Innovate UK for comment.

Chief of MHRA

The chief executive of the government’s regulator of medicines is stepping down after five years at the helm.

June Raine will remain in post at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency until the autumn to ensure a “smooth transition”.

Raine was the agency’s director of vigilance and risk management of medicines before taking over as chief executive in August 2019 and leading the agency through the Covid-19 pandemic. She said it had “been an enormous privilege to have led the MHRA through a time of change which is unprecedented in UK medical products regulation”.

The government is currently trying to streamline the MHRA’s bureaucracy to speed up R&D such as clinical trials.

Raine said she hoped to remain involved in contributing to patient safety and public health in some capacity.

Science minister

George Freeman resigned as science minister amid prime minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet reshuffle in November, saying that “with a heavy heart…the time has come for me [to stand down] to focus on my health, family wellbeing and life beyond the frontbench”.

He later said that he had resigned because he was “exhausted, bust and depressed” and could not afford to pay his mortgage on a ministerial salary.

While he expects a Labour victory at the next general election, he said he would still run and, if reelected as an MP, would like to become the next chair of the House of Commons Science, Innovation and Technology Committee.

Former science minister and net zero tsar

Chris Skidmore recently stood down from parliament in protest at the government’s plans to enable fresh drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea.

Having said on 5 January this year that he would be standing down as an MP “as soon as possible”, Skidmore resigned on 8 January “in protest at the government’s decision to prioritise and politicise new oil and gas licences above a sensible investment plan for the future”.

His resignation triggered a by-election that was then won by a Labour candidate.

Skidmore’s most recent ministerial post was as science minister under Boris Johnson from September 2019 to February 2020, a position he had also held in Theresa May’s government from December 2018 until July 2019. He has also held energy and health ministerial roles.

He later became the government’s net zero tsar, responsible for publishing an independent review of net zero in January 2023, which called on the government to “do more” to speed up the growth of net zero R&D.