Skip to main content

"By creating we think, by living we learn" Patrick Geddes

Main University menu

Templates Top-Level Menu

Professor Pete Downes

Principal & Vice-Chancellor

Professor Pete Downes is Principal & Vice-Chancellor.  He joined the University in 1989 and was a Vice-Principal of the University and Head of the College of Life Sciences for three years.

Peter Downes is a distinguished biochemist who has played a key role in developing life sciences at the University of Dundee to its current status as a global player making a significant impact on the Scottish economy and, importantly, on the understanding and treatment of major diseases including diabetes and cancer.  His work leading the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy with Sir Philip Cohen has brought in excess of £50 million of inward investment involving several of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies in a unique collaboration which anchors work on vital drug discovery to Dundee and Scotland. It is one of the largest ever research collaborations between the pharmaceutical industry and a British university and has been highlighted by the British Government as a model of best practice in technology transfer. The DSTT has also won, in November 2005, the highly coveted Queen’s Anniversary Prize – the equivalent of the honours system for universities in the UK.

He is one of the most cited bio-scientists in the UK and his work has contributed to Dundee University having been named by the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia as the most quoted university in Europe over the last 10 years, in life and medical sciences and first in the world for pharmacology. Dundee has also been named for five years running amongst the best places in Europe in which to work – The Scientist.

Over the last 15 years Pete has played a fundamental role in building life sciences activity at the university to its current international position and Scotland’s leading research centre for Life Sciences.  Today the School of Life Sciences, including the Wellcome Trust Biocentre, employs over 1000 scientists and support staff from more than 50 countries and is at the core of a biotechnology cluster that accounts for 16% of the local economy.

As a biochemist Pete has made an important contribution over many years. He identified the mechanism of action of the drug Lithium used to treat manic depression and has played a key role developing our understanding of the roles of inositol lipids in signalling from an area of specialist interest to its current status, having a major influence in understanding physiology and human disease.  Of particular interest in this regard, his collaboration with Lew Cantley, which identified 3-phosphorylated inositol lipids, initiated the PI 3-kinase field, now a major source of anticancer drug targets.  For these discoveries he was awarded the Colworth Medal of the British Biochemical Society in 1987, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1991 and the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2010.  The esteem in which he is held nationally may be gauged by his election as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Biochemical Society 2001-04.  He is a member of the Council of the Society of Biology and a Trustee of the Saltire Foundation.  He was honoured by the Queen with an OBE in 2004.

Previous Principals have been:


NameYears in office
 James Drever  1967-1978
 Adam Neville  1978-1987
 Michael Hamlin  1987-1994
 Ian Graham-Bryce  1994-2000
 Alan Langlands  2000-2009