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Professor Sharon Peacock

Sharon Peacock, Professor of Public Health and Microbiology in the Department of Medicine, and Executive Director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium, has been awarded the MRC Millennium Medal 2021.

The MRC Millennium Medal is the Medical Research Council’s most prestigious prize, awarded to exceptional researchers who have made major contributions towards the MRC’s mission to improve health, wealth and quality of life. 

Peacock is honoured for her pioneering work in pathogen sequencing, visionary leadership of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), and outstanding contributions to advancing equality, diversity and inclusion in research. She will be presented with the medal commissioned from the Royal Mint at an awards ceremony in spring 2022. 
Professor Fiona Watt, MRC Executive Chair, said: “Professor Sharon Peacock is one of the world’s leading academic clinical microbiologists. Her pioneering work on pathogen sequencing and her visionary leadership of COG-UK have had a profound impact on national and international policy and played a critical role in the COVID-19 pandemic response. Sharon’s commitment to advancing equality, diversity and inclusion in research by leading women in STEM initiatives has been truly remarkable. The MRC is delighted to recognise Sharon’s achievements by awarding her the MRC Millennium Medal 2021.” 

Professor Sharon Peacock said: “I am deeply honoured to have been awarded the MRC Millennium Medal. The MRC have funded my research on real-world applications for pathogen genomics for over a decade. I want to acknowledge the instrumental importance of MRC/UKRI to myself and others in creating the scientific capabilities and expertise that has proved so vital during the pandemic response, and that has impacted on public health in the UK and beyond. 

“The medal and the science that it acknowledges has resulted from the commitment, expertise and creativity of a very large number of people that I have had the privilege to work with. This includes my incredible research group in Cambridge; the Principal Investigators, Consortium Members, management team, advisors and partners of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium; and colleagues at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.”

Peacock is a pioneer and advocate for applying sequencing to public health and infection control, which has placed the UK at the forefront of pathogen sequencing. Her work has demonstrated the power of real-time sequencing to detect and halt outbreaks of bacteria such as MRSA in hospitals, and in predicting drug resistance in a range of common bacterial pathogens. 

Peacock had a non-traditional career path, having left school at 16 to work in a shop. She later entered formal training as a nurse, where she gained an interest in medicine, attending medical school before transitioning into research.  

Leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic 

Peacock took rapid action in March 2020 to initiate and direct COG-UK, a network of scientists and labs across the UK that uses large-scale, rapid genome sequencing of SARS CoV-2, the virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic. This has helped understand transmission and evolution of the virus, and informed public health responses and vaccine development.

COG-UK played a key role in the detection and characterisation of global Variants of Concern, including the Alpha and Delta variants. 

Peacock has actively promoted a ‘give away’ culture for genome data, methods, tools and know-how, which has been instrumental in providing less-equipped countries with the tools to manage the pandemic.

Contributions to research culture 

Peacock’s broad contributions to the research community exemplifies MRC values as an advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and women in STEM. She has advanced EDI across COG-UK through the development of the Women in COG initiative which highlighted the critical role of female scientists during the pandemic. She also led the COG-UK celebration of International Women’s Day in 2021, with the nomination and celebration of 37 women working in COG-UK across a range of disciplines. 

Find out more 

Hunting for COVID-19 Variants

The Variant Hunters


Text adapted from a press release by the MRC.

Date awarded

13 December 2021

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Professor Sharon Peacock