New Head of Research is appointed for the School of Biomedical Sciences

Dr Farhat Khanim

 Dr Farhat Khanim has been appointed the new Head of Research for the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Birmingham. 

What is your background?

I'm a molecular biologist by training, having obtained a BSc Hons in Biological Sciences at the University of Birmingham and then a PhD looking at Epstein Barr Virus in Nasopharyngeal carcinoma with Professor Lawrence Young. With funding from a Swedish Cancerfonden fellowship, I spent my first postdoc at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Upon returning to the UK, I worked with various groups in the University of Birmingham, broadening my skill set and knowledge base. However, my desire was to use my molecular and cellular biology skills to do translational research that improved patient outcomes within a timescale that I could see.

I joined the lab of Professors Chris Bunce and Mark Drayson in 2003, developing novel therapies for blood cancers using drugs that are not normally used for cancer. In 2013, I became a PI after successfully applying for a Bloodwise programme grant with Professor Drayson, and subsequently expanded the research group with additional grants.  My research focuses on streamlining drug repurposing screening for developing affordable effective non-toxic treatments and translating them into clinical trials in the UK/Europe and Africa. 

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

The drug repurposing studies have resulted in clinical trials in both the UK and Africa where we have seen extended survival and improved cure rates in some patients. To be able to extend the life of or cure someone with cancer, so that they have more quality time with their loved ones, is definitely my greatest achievement.

What attracted you to working in Birmingham?

The University of Birmingham is a wonderful institute with a huge breadth of research, both basic and clinical.  Translational research needs close collaborations between basic scientists and clinicians and that is why it is the best place for the translational work that I do.

What are you most looking forward to doing in your new role?

In addition to continue with my own research and teaching, I am excited about meeting and getting to know people in the Institute of Clinical Sciences, to hear about what they do and see what new ideas we can develop together. As Head of Research for the School of Biomedical Sciences, I am excited by the challenge of working with our Head of School, Dr Chris Tselepsis, to develop a research strategy that supports colleagues and enhances existing strengths while developing new cross-disciplinary ideas across the Medical School and the campus. Integrating the research with the teaching programme will be an important part of my new role. 

Where do you see your research group in five years' time?

My five-year mission for my research group is to have published current research data in high quality journals and translated these studies into clinical trials in Europe and in Africa. We have new candidates that need developing so we will be looking to fund these new projects and to expand the group. I am currently developing collaborations with industry which will hopefully come to fruition over the next five years.

In parallel, I have been working on developing a national centre of excellence for drug repurposing screening (CADRe) to facilitate translation of academic research and will aim to have this project funded in the next five years.

What do you think the future holds for the field of biomedical sciences?

The future is very exciting for Biomedical Sciences! We are only now starting to appreciate the importance of studying our models in the context of the complexity of the tissue, the whole organism and the environment. The role of the microbiome is particularly exciting, as is the novel ways that cells can communicate with each other.

Our research will need to consider these complexities through cross-disciplinary research if we are to truly understand what is going on and develop solutions. Utilising the plethora of new technological platforms will facilitate these studies but will also yield the challenge of analysis and integration of large datasets. Hence, the parallel development of the supporting bioinformatics will be essential. 

Find out more