Titles and Affiliations

President Emeritus, The Rockefeller University
New York, New York
Director and CEO, The Francis Crick Institute
London, United Kingdom

Research area

Understanding the regulation of genes that control breast cancer growth in order to develop new therapies.


Breast cancer is caused by genes becoming damaged, which leads to cells reproducing out of control. Normally, human cells grow and multiply through a process called cell division to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes this orderly process breaks down, and abnormal or damaged cells grow and multiply when they should not. These cells may form tumors, which can become cancerous. Dr. Nurse is investigating the mechanisms by which cells control their overall growth and reproduction. Understanding how these processes work normally and in breast cancer is essential to inform new breast cancer therapies.

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Nurse’s work is in two areas: exploring new drugs that target cancer cells to prevent tumor formation and studying the genes that enable cancer cells to grow out of control. His team identified master regulatory genes of cell growth and cell reproduction that are essential to understanding how breast cancer begins and could inform the creation of novel drugs that inhibit breast cancer cell growth. He has identified 11 novel drugs that interfere with multiple cancer processes. Of these, he and his team determined the most potent drug that kills only breast cancer cells while leaving normal cells intact and also tested combinations of drugs that can work synergistically to improve effectiveness without being too toxic.

What's next

In the coming year, Dr. Nurse will continue his investigations of the control and function of the master regulators of the cell cycle. Dr. Nurse has begun an additional project to identify new drugs that will preferentially inhibit breast cancer cell growth Dr. Nurse has found candidate drugs that target the cytoskeleton, which give cells their shape and is vital for the cell division cycle to be completed correctly. Work on other new drugs that target the cytoskeleton will continue next year.

“If not for BCRF, my laboratory would not be able to pursue novel and unusual ways to better understand and treat breast cancer. Most other funding agencies do not allow such freedoms of approach, which are needed for real innovative advances.”- Dr. Nurse


Paul Nurse, who shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was president of The Rockefeller University from 2003 to 2011.

Dr. Nurse is noted for discoveries about molecular mechanisms that regulate the cell cycle, the process by which a cell copies its genetic material and divides into two cells. His work, which is fundamental to understanding growth and development, is also vital to cancer research, because mistakes in the cell duplication process can contribute to the formation of tumors.

Dr. Nurse earned a PhD at the University of East Anglia. He joined the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) in 1984, and in 1988 moved to Oxford University to chair the Microbiology Department. Dr. Nurse returned to the ICRF as director of research in 1993, and in 1996 he was appointed director general. In 2002, he became CEO of Cancer Research UK, which he formed by merging ICRF with the Cancer Research Campaign. Today at Rockefeller, he is president emeritus and a professor heading the Laboratory of Yeast Genetics and Cell Biology.

Dr. Nurse served as president of the Royal Society and is currently director and CEO of The Francis Crick Institute. He is a fellow of the Royal Society, a founding member of the U.K. Academy of Medical Sciences, and a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. In addition to the Nobel Prize, he has received numerous other awards and honors. Dr. Nurse was knighted in 1999, and in 2002 he was awarded France's Légion d’Honneur.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Sir Elton John Award Endowed by Leonard A. Lauder

Areas of Focus