17 April 2019
5 mins with…Peter Parker
Professor Peter Parker is the Director of the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) King's Health Partners (KHP) Centre based on the Guy’s campus. He provides strategic leadership in both this role and within the wider Comprehensive Cancer Centre at King’s. He has a joint appointment with the Francis Crick Institute where his research team operates. Peter has been at King’s since 2006.
Briefly, tell me about your background and career up to this point
I am so long in the tooth, there is nothing exactly brief about my career. I have spent the vast majority of it working in the field of cancer, with a rather singular focus on protein kinases. In fact, the protein kinases came before the cancer interest, in the very early days when you could count them on the fingers of one hand. Having been there early, I was I think in the right place, at the right time, to apply my consuming interest in these control mechanisms and this has enabled me over my career to contribute to and support a wide variety of developments from new Academic Centres, founding companies, promoting funding initiatives, Journal Editorship, commercial interactions, etc, the usual trappings of an academic career.
What research are you currently working on?
Three areas that are pertinent to new cancer interventions. One at a late stage where we are trying to unravel an underlying mechanism to help the clinical positioning of a new drug we have been involved in developing. A second where we have identified an emergent liability of many cancers that creates a new targeting opportunity; we are seeking to understand the molecular mechanisms involved and validate the target. A third is more around a principle – do some cancer mutations in kinases cause loss of activity but a gain of function? This has implications for how some of these protein kinases operate and of course for the manner in which one would seek to block their action.
What is a typical day like for you?
I tend to start early with a long train commute, that I prefer to do out of rush hour, followed by a bit of exercise on a “Boris” bike. South Western Railway willing and barring any fracas with pedestrians wandering across bike lanes I am at my desk by 7 or 7.30AM. The day then typically unfolds with combinations of research meetings, administrative meetings of one form or another, much trawling the literature and even more email correspondence with the occasional crisis thrown in for good measure. Holding a joint appointment between King's and the Crick I usually find myself back on a Boris bike in the middle of the day changing campuses. That gives me the opportunity to do it all over again in another setting, before jumping back on a bike and starting the trek home.
Where is your research area heading in the next five years?
A clinical trial, some new molecular insights validating a target to bring a new drug development opportunity and I hope some surprises.
What would you like members of our School to most know about you and your research area?
I am always ready to discuss research ideas and not just in my area. I have gained also more than a little experience in translation and the commercial world; I am happy to make time to support colleagues interested in dipping their toes into this water.
What are your favourite parts about your current roles?
I am no longer Head of School! Somewhat less frivolously, I get huge enjoyment from Directing the CRUK Centre at King’s and being engaged with the development of the City of London Centre, the joint initiative with the Crick, UCL and QMUL. The Crick itself is a wonderful campus on which to work and the combination of activities there and at the Centre at Guy’s is brilliant. All have been tremendously rewarding, providing opportunities to interact with a breadth of colleagues and to actively encourage studies that promise much for our cancer centre patients.
What do you do with your time outside of academia?
Pottery, tennis, theatre, music, walking, building and general lazing about.
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
Be lucky and keep your eyes open.
Who do you look up to (inside or outside of academia)?
I have a rather egalitarian view of the world and not sure looking ‘up to’ is how I would phrase it. I have enormous respect for very many people inside and outside of academia.
Any leaving remarks that you would like other members of our School to know about you?
I like to feel that I have an open-door policy and anyone can wander in to talk – the usual problem is finding me there.
Favourite Movie: Blade Runner (original version – not the Director’s cut)
Favourite Book: The Name of the Rose
Favourite Radio Show: 'I’m sorry I haven’t a clue'
Favourite Scientist: Einstein