Leading professor leaves Newcastle over Brexit fears

Josef Vormoor has opted to leave the university following Brexit. Image: Newcastle University

Professor Josef Vormoor, who developed pioneering cancer treatments for children with his role at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, is leaving Newcastle University.

Professor Vormoor, from Leer, Germany, worked for three years as Director of the Institute and for 12 years at the university. He is moving to the Netherlands to work at the national cancer centre in Utrecht, and has said that, although he was ultimately swayed by the new opportunity, Brexit did play a role in his decision to move abroad.

Although he was ultimately swayed by the new opportunity, Brexit did play a role in his decision to move abroad

His decision to leave the University and the Institute has furthered the discussion about the impacts that Brexit is having on research funding and recruitment of academia, which has echoed warnings from the science industry.

Discussing the potential impact, Professor Vormoor described how “recruiting doctors and scientists from Europe is going to be more difficult”, which will be coupled with increased problems with accessing funding.

“I still think people will come to work in this country’s universities and hospitals in the long term because they’re fantastic but there’s going to be a difficult period in the short term because of the lack of certainty.”

“Scientific research is a global community. The majority of clinical trials to treat cancer in children I’ve been involved with have been cross-border because there simply haven’t been enough patients here to test treatments on.”

These concerns have been echoed by Professor Steve Clifford, who has replaced Professor Vormoor as Director of the Northern Institute for Cancer Research. He described how “Brexit has created great uncertainty over our future relationships with our European colleagues in medical research.”

“It is fundamental that essential Europe-wide medical research does not lose out in the Brexit negotiations. European Institutions [and academics] are critical partners in the research and development of improved therapies, and EU funding and regulatory authorities are central to much of this work.”

Both Professors Vormoor and Clifford firmly believe that further clarity is needed on Brexit’s impact on universities and scientific organisations so that resources can be efficiently allocated and new funding sources sought.

Reflecting Newcastle University’s position as a global research hub, a spokesperson said, “we continue to prioritise securing opportunities for our researchers and students to access vital pan-European programmes and build new global networks.”

“We remain unswerving in our commitment to a continuation of substantial numbers of European and international staff and students as we support and value all their contribution.”

Professor Vormoor has been highly praised for his achievements at the University, with his work described by a University spokesman as “outstanding”. Despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, the Institute is optimistic for the future and it is hoped that new Director Professor Clifford, who was heralded/hailed as “fantastic” by his predecessor, will echo Professor Vormoor’s success.

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