Professor John Frater
Professor – Infectious Diseases
When it comes to Professor John Frater’s interest in research he admits the “science gene” may have skipped a generation. His father is a successful travel writer and journalist, but whilst not being particularly gifted in English or the Arts at school, John attributes to his grandfather – a medical missionary in Vanuatu and Principal of the Fiji Medical School – his fascination with medicine.
After completing his medical degree, John’s interest in research was sparked while working as a junior doctor in the HIV unit, at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington. It was the mid 1990s, and HIV was just starting to make an impact. As a young doctor working between two wards full of people his age who were sick and dying, John found HIV equally terrifying and fascinating. After successfully applying for an MRC Clinical Training Fellowship, John undertook his PhD at Imperial College – sequencing viruses from patients in Africa and Europe to see how they would differ in response to drugs. It was during his PhD that John learned about the complexity of the HIV virus, and how it could adapt and change.
In 2001, following his PhD, John moved to Oxford to complete his clinical training. It was here that he met Professor Rodney Phillips, who’d been working on how HIV adapts to the human immune response. Finding immediate parallels between the virus’ responses to the immune system and antiviral drugs, John eventually joined Rodney’s lab as a Clinical Lecturer.
After gaining an MRC Clinician Scientist Award to look at immune responses and early HIV infection, John’s research moved in a more translational direction, with major projects including the HIV treatment trial, ‘SPARTAC’. John is now working on a new HIV cure programme, which he established and leads with a colleague from Imperial College, Dr Sarah Fidler. This new programme, called CHERUB, is a collaboration between Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, UCL and Kings College, and aims to find proof of principle for a cure, through developing new assays to measure HIV, and exploring the use of new drugs, vaccines and immunotherapies.
In addition to his research commitments, John still spends time on the wards, while also balancing fatherhood and family life in the Cotswold town of Chipping Norton.
“My wife Susie works part time as a drama teacher and we have two children Joe and Maisie, who are 12 and 10,” John says. “I’m really lucky, Susie is incredibly supportive and has enabled me to develop my career, but we know how important it is to spend valuable time together as a family.”
“Research is tough, there’s no doubt about that. It’s as close to running your own business as I can imagine – you fail and succeed on your own personal efforts and results,” he continues.
“But what you miss out on in job security, you make up for with the chance to discover new things every day, to work with fascinating people and to be constantly challenged.”