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Professor Sharon Peacock awarded the MRC Millennium Medal

Sharon Peacock, Non-Executive Director at Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH), has been awarded the Medical Research Council's most prestigious prize for her pioneering work and leadership in tracking Covid variants during the pandemic.

Her expertise has placed the UK at the forefront of pathogen sequencing, enabling scientists to understand how the Covid virus is evolving within and beyond the UK.

In early March 2020 she took rapid action to initiate and direct COG-UK, which is a network of scientists and labs across the country that acted to generate genomic surveillance.

COG-UK played a key role in the detection and characterisation of global variants of concern during the pandemic, including the Alpha and Delta variants.

To date, more than one million UK SARS-CoV-2 genomes have been generated and used in the pandemic response.

Sharon Peacock
Professor Sharon Peacock

The medal and the science that it acknowledges has resulted from the commitment, expertise and creativity of a very large number of people that I have had the privilege to work with.

Professor Sharon Peacock

Professor Sharon Peacock said:

"I am deeply honoured to have been awarded the MRC Millennium Medal.

"MRC have funded my research on real-world applications for pathogen genomics for over a decade.

"I want to acknowledge the instrumental importance of MRC and UK Research and Innovation to myself and others in creating the scientific capabilities and expertise that has proved so vital during the pandemic response, and that has impacted on public health in the UK and beyond.

"The medal and the science that it acknowledges has resulted from the commitment, expertise and creativity of a very large number of people that I have had the privilege to work with.

"This includes my incredible research group in Cambridge: the principal investigators, consortium members, management team, advisors and partners of COG-UK and colleagues at the Wellcome Sanger Institute."

Find out more about COG-UK in an MRC blog post authored by Professor Sharon Peacock.

Alongside being the director of COG-UK, Sharon Peacock is a Professor of Public Health and Microbiology in the Department of Medicine at the University of Cambridge.

But her early career followed an usual path, having left school at 16 to work in a shop.

She later entered formal training as a nurse, where she gained an interest in medicine, attending medical school before transitioning into research.

Sharon now has over two decades of scientific contributions in microbiology including 10 years supported by MRC funding, and spent seven years in Thailand working on tropical diseases.

She has received a number of prestigious awards across her career, including being elected as Fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences and the American Academy of Microbiology in 2013 and an elected Member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation in 2015. She also received a CBE for services to medical microbiology in 2015.

Sharon’s commitment to advancing equality, diversity and inclusion in research by leading women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiatives has been truly remarkable

Fiona Watt, MRC Executive Chair

As the latest recipient of the MRC Millennium Medal, Professor Sharon Peacock joins an outstanding group of researchers, including Professor Sir Rory Collins, Professor Janet Darbyshire and Sir Peter Mansfield.

Professor Peacock will be presented with the medal commissioned from the Royal Mint at an awards ceremony in spring 2022.

Fiona Watt, MRC Executive Chair, said:

"Professor Sharon Peacock is one of the world’s leading academic clinical microbiologists. Her pioneering work on pathogen sequencing and her visionary leadership of COG-UK have had a profound impact on national and international policy and played a critical role in the COVID-19 pandemic response."

In addition, the MRC Millennium Medal recognises Professor Peacock as a key advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and women in STEM.

She has advanced EDI across COG-UK through the development of the ‘Women in COG’ initiative which highlighted the critical role of female scientists during the pandemic.

She also led the COG-UK celebration of International Women’s Day in 2021, with the nomination and celebration of 37 women working in COG-UK across a range of disciplines.

Fiona Watt added:

"Sharon’s commitment to advancing equality, diversity and inclusion in research by leading women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiatives has been truly remarkable."