About Professor Sharon Peacock - Biography | Sharon Peacock
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About Professor Sharon Peacock

PROFESSOR SHARON PEACOCK

COVID-19 has revealed Sharon as someone that can balance strategic vision with an ability to get things done. As Executive Director and Chair of the COVID-19 Genomics consortium (or COG-UK for short), she oversaw the development of a network that catapulted the UK to prominence as a leading authority on the generation and use of SARS-CoV-2 genomes as part of the pandemic response.  The emergence of variants and the need to detect and track these represented a major shift in thinking and practice for disease control and vaccine effectiveness. SARS-CoV-2 genomes generated by COG-UK members led to the identification of the Alpha variant, and provided data that helped to conclude that the Delta variant was more transmissible and could partially dodge the immune system.

Sharon ascribes her drive and tenacity to her early years.  She left school aged 16 having failed the 11 plus examination, and took a full-time job in a local corner shop. Moving to a role at a dental surgery allowed her to train as a dental nurse, after which she trained as a state registered nurse and at the same time studied for GSCEs at night school. After qualifying as a nurse, Sharon worked night shifts in an acute medical ward and then in end-of-life care whilst taking A-levels at a technical college. After two years of trying, she finally landed a place to study medicine at Southampton University. These early years were highly influential in many ways. They honed a steely determination to find a way forward even when faced with significant barriers, and an acute sensitivity to the inequalities of opportunity.

professor sharon peacock - Toughness - Diane Feinstein
Quotation: Dianne Feinstein

Much of Sharon’s long career has been dedicated to the service of patients and public health through her long-term commitment to the NHS and global health. Sharon is currently Professor of Public Health and Microbiology in the Department of MedicineUniversity of Cambridge, and a world authority on the use of pathogen genomics to provide actionable information to improve health. She is also a leading expert on antibiotic resistance, and a range of infectious diseases. A career spanning nursing, medicine, and non-executive director in a major NHS Foundation Trust has provided an unusual combination of first-hand ‘ward-to-board’ experience.

 

Sharon’s contribution has been recognised by numerous prizes and awards. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, and an elected Member of EMBO. She was awarded a CBE for services to medical microbiology in 2015 and won the Unilever Colworth Prize for outstanding contribution to translational microbiology in 2018. She has published more than 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers and 21 book chapters, as well as raising more than £60 million GB pounds in academic research funding.

So, what’s next? Having developed one of the most successful SARS-CoV-2 sequencing operations in the world, there is still much to do. With public health agencies taking up this role to provide a vital legacy, Sharon is now turning her attention to global training in SARS-CoV-2 sequencing, as well as how to drive forward the use of sequencing technologies to detect and contain antibiotic resistance. With a history degree already behind her, she is also keen to piece together the story of public health microbiology in England over the last 50 years as a lens through which to view pandemic preparedness. And never far away is the desire to encourage others to access education and to find solutions to the barriers to access that continue to exist today.