New director for WEHI announced

By Siobhan Calafiore

20 Nov 2023

The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute has a new director with world-renowned immunology expert Professor Ken Smith appointed following a global search.

Professor Smith will assume the role at the Melbourne research centre in May next year after returning from the UK, where he currently heads the Cambridge University’s Department of Medicine since 2010.

The Smith Lab at Cambridge University runs an experimental medicine and translational program focused on understanding the mechanisms underlying immune-mediated diseases and immunodeficiency. Professor Smith is also Director of the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease.

According to his biography, Professor Smith’s  lab runs a translational program in autoimmune disease (particularly SLE, vasculitis and IBD) that has led to the discovery of a prognosis-predicting biomarker entering clinical trials, and to the identification of new pathways driving disease outcomes in autoimmunity and infection.

A WEHI alum, he will become the institute’s seventh director in just over a century.

He is expected to bring a distinct global perspective, having amassed scientific research links spanning multiple countries including Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, and parts of Africa, and with long-standing connections with Europe and the US.

According to the institute, Professor Smith has been instrumental in forming alliances between industry and academia, and has funding and commercial experience including with the pharmaceutical industry in the UK, US and Europe.

Professor Smith has a long list of achievements, including being elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2006, to the American Association of Physicians in 2020, and received the Lister Institute Research Prize in 2007.

WEHI president Jane Hemstrich said he was the perfect fit with a proven track record in all facets of medical research, clinical practice and strategic leadership.

“He is a champion of equality, diversity and inclusion within his lab and beyond – and with the corresponding implementation of initiatives that confirm these priorities. We are confident that Ken will continue to build on the strong and distinct legacy of collaboration, integrity and brilliant research built by his WEHI predecessors, while boldly taking the institute into the future,” she said.

Commenting on his appointment in a statement [link here], Professor Smith said: “WEHI is globally-renowned for its outstanding history of critical discoveries in cancer, immune health and infection, developmental disorders and healthy ageing. I’m looking forward to returning to WEHI, and to meeting the staff, students and supporters that are striving to help solve some of the world’s most complex health problems.”

Professor Smith succeeds Professor Doug Hilton who stepped down from the role in August after 14 years. The appointment follows a global recruitment process.

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