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Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry


Courtesy Department of Chemistry Photography

We are saddened to announce that our dear friend and colleague Chris Abell has died suddenly at the age of 62.

Chris has been a member of the Department since his undergraduate days in the late 70s. He joined the academic staff in 1984 and soon become a major figure in the area of biological chemistry.  

Chris was a pioneer in the field of fragment-based drug discovery, a successful entrepreneur, a founding director of Cambridge Enterprise, and the University’s first Director of Postdoctoral Affairs.

Latterly he has been the University's Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, and had been instrumental in preparing the University for next year's REF assessment. Earlier this year he took on an essential role in coordinating the University's response to meet national targets for Covid-19 testing.

A major focus of his highly interdisciplinary research here was to understand the mechanisms of key enzymes and develop approaches to their inhibition, an approach that could lead to new treatments for diseases such as tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis and cancer.

The advances he made in fragment-based drug discovery led him to co-found Astex, a world-leading company in this area, in 1999. Fragment-based approaches are now adopted throughout the pharmaceutical industry and in many academic laboratories.

Chris also made major contributions to the development of microfluidic microdroplets as a platform for experimental science, with applications in cell biology, chemistry and materials science. This interest resulted in the co-founding of Sphere Fluidics (2010) and Aqdot (2013).

Chris was an undergraduate and postgraduate student at St John’s College, Cambridge, before conducting postdoctoral research at Brown University, USA. He was named a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2012 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2016. He was Professor of Biological Chemistry here in the Department and Todd-Hamied Fellow of Christ’s College.

Dr James Keeler, Head of the Department of Chemistry, said: “Chris has for many years been a leading figure in the field of biological chemistry and has been responsible for significant advances in the field. Chris is remembered by us all as an outstanding scientist and a valued and loyal colleague."

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope said: “Chris’ death is a huge loss to the University, and to me personally. Our thoughts and our deepest sympathies are with his wife, Dr Katherine Abell, their son Daniel, and with Chris’ friends and colleagues at the Department of Chemistry, at the Research Operations and Research Strategy Offices, and at Christ’s College.”

Professor Jane Stapleton, Master of Christ’s College, said: “In Christ’s we are devastated by the shocking news of the death of Chris Abell, our warm, wise friend. He has long been held in the greatest esteem by the College to which he devoted so much of his remarkable energy.”

Chris has had a major impact on so much of what we do, and has been a tireless advocate for the Department and the University. He will be sorely missed.

A digital condolences book has been set up at: