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Our team

The Institute is made up of dedicated drug discovery teams led by a Chief Scientific Officer and Lead Academic Scientists.

Fiona Randall

Fiona Ducotterd

Chief Scientific Officer

Fiona is a neuroscientist, strategic alliance and business development expert with global drug discovery and development experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry with Merck, GSK, Eisai and Vertex in the USA, UK, China and Japan, and an external consultant/scientific advisor to a wealth of global biotechnology clients. Fiona relocated from Boston, USA to London to join UCL and the DDI in November 2022 to translate cutting edge academic research into drug discovery programs. Fiona has spent most of her career working on Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases after being motivated by her personal experience of watching her Granny Mac slowly fade away with the disease. Fiona and her team are focused on making new medicines for patients and she’s excited by the continuously emerging understanding of disease mechanisms and development of biomarkers that will accelerate the translational research path to making transformative medicines.

Fiona has a BSc in Molecular Biology from Edinburgh University and a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. Fiona has led a multitude of neurodegeneration and neurology preclinical research projects in industry and led matrixed and international teams generating decision-making data sets for novel therapeutics for small molecule projects and other drug modalities including; biologics, antisense oligonucleotides and cell and gene therapies. She has managed more than 100 strategic collaborations across therapeutic areas at the interface of partnering organisations in both industry and academia.

Fiona is a passionate scientific leader and a mentor and coach for early career scientists and other professionals, particularly those that are under-represented in the industry. She serves on the Society for Neuroscience (SFN) Finance Committee and is an SFN Neuroscience Scholars Program Reviewer and is the Past Chair of the SFN Women in Neuroscience Subcommittee and Past Chair of the Alzheimer’s Association ISTAART Electrophysiology Professional Interest Area.

Fiona has a young daughter, Isla, who took part in her first clinical trial (Covid vaccine) the day she was born and will hopefully become a next-generation STEM leader.


Leadership Team

In conjunction with the CSO our Leadeship Team manages the drug discovery operations of the institute.


Sarah Jolly

Sarah is an experienced neurobiologist working on drug discovery projects ranging from target identification and validation to lead optimisation. Her work at the DDI has been focused on synaptic and neurovascular health as well as neuroinflammation, and she leads a platform exploring the potential of astrocytes as new therapeutic targets in Alzheimer’s disease. Prior to joining the DDI, Sarah completed her PhD in Paris and her first post-doctoral training post at UCL. During this time, she worked on neuro-glia cross-talk in physiological or pathological conditions.


Lorenza Magno

Lorenza obtained a first-class honours degree in Biotechnology applied to Pharmacy from the University of Milan, Italy. She then received a PhD in Medical Neurosciences at Charité University in Berlin, Germany. Lorenza joined the Neurodegeneration Biology group within the DDI in 2017 where she developed microglia model systems to characterise and validate potential drug targets for dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. Lorenza now leads a multidisciplinary team of scientists that has responsibility for the Neuroinflammation programme, and additionally participates in the screening and pharmacology activities of the DDI.


Emma Armstrong

Emma obtained her BSc hons degree in Neuroscience from The University of Sheffield. She has over 20 years drug discovery experience in neuroscience gained within the pharmaceutical companies MSD and Pfizer, working primarily on GPCR based targets, but also on transporters, stem cells and biochemical targets. She has extensive experience in developing and delivering cell-based functional assays for high throughput screens as well as in classical pharmacology. Emma joined the UCL DDI in April 2016.


Fredrik Svensson

Fredrik is a Senior Research Associate at the Alzheimer’s Research UK UCL Drug Discovery Institute. He was awarded his Ph.D. from Uppsala University, Sweden, after which he obtained a postdoctoral fellowship from the Swedish Pharmaceutical Society for research in cheminformatics at the University of Cambridge with Dr Andreas Bender. He has is an expert on structure-based drug discovery and computational methods for drug discovery.


Fiona Jeganathan

Fiona obtained her BSc honours degree in Medical Biochemistry from King’s College London and then went on to complete her PhD in Analytical sciences within the Pharmaceutical Science Research Division at Kings College London. Following this she spent the last 10 years as a translation scientist focused on supporting and leading several initiatives to drive early-stage discovery (HTS campaigns) and development of small molecules from hit to lead stages to enable the discovery of new drugs to treat human disease.
Fiona joined the Alzheimer’s research UK drug discovery unit in 2016 and have continued the translational career path with the added benefit of being able to engage with world leaders in neuroscience research within UCL. She has developed multiple functional cell-based assays and is applying the expertise to microglia model systems to characterise and validate potential drug targets.

Robert Lesniak

Robert is a Senior Research Fellow and team leader (Chemistry) at the Alzhemier’s Research UK UCL Drug Discovery Institute and joined in September 2022. Rob has extensive small molecule drug discovery experience over a broad range of disease states and >10 years chemistry laboratory practice. Prior to joining the DDI, Robert was a medicinal chemist and faculty instructor in the department of Pathology at Stanford University School of Medicine, USA, working with Prof Montine and Dr Jeremy Nichols to identify novel small molecule-based treatments for Parkinson’s Disease. Robert held postdoctoral positions in medicinal chemistry at Stanford University ChEM-H and Oxford University working in the fields of Parkinson’s disease and novel antibiotic discovery respectively. Robert obtained his DPhil in Chemical Biology in under the supervision of Prof Chris Schofield at Oxford University, developing chemical probes of metalloenzymes involved in antibiotic resistance, hypoxic response and cardiovascular disease. Robert completed his MSci degree in Chemistry at Bristol University in 2012, and during this time was also able to work as a medicinal chemist at GlaxoSmithKline, USA developing inhibitors of epigenetic proteins.

Lead Academic Scientists

Our Lead Academic Scientists act as ambassadors for the UCL Drug Discovery Institute, facilitating interactions with scientists and access to resources within UCL and beyond.

Giampietro Schiavo

Prof Schiavo gained his degree in Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Technology and a PhD in Biological Sciences from the University of Padua, Italy, and received postdoctoral training at the University of Padua and at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, USA. He was then recruited as junior group leader at the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute, where he has been Head of the Molecular NeuroPathobiology Laboratory until 2013. In 2014, he moved to University College London as Professor of Cellular Neurobiology at the Institute of Neurology. During his career, Prof Schiavo performed functional analyses on the mechanism of action of several bacterial toxins, such as diphtheria and pertussis toxins, and tetanus and botulinum neurotoxins. These studies provided a step-change in the molecular understanding of the machinery controlling neurotransmitter release and contributed to the first recombinant diphtheria vaccine now used worldwide in humans. The current goal of Professor Schiavo’s research is to understand the mechanisms underlying neuronal membrane trafficking, in particular axonal transport, and how neurons control the uptake and sorting of ligands in health and disease.

John Hardy

Prof Hardy is a geneticist and molecular biologist whose research interests focus on neurological disease. He received his B.Sc. (Hons) degree from the University of Leeds and his Ph.D. from Imperial College London, where he studied dopamine and amino acid neuropharmacology. Prof Hardy received his postdoctoral training at the MRC Neuropathogenesis Unit in Newcastle upon Tyne, and then further postdoctoral work at the Swedish Brain Bank in Umeå, Sweden where he started to work on Alzheimer’s disease. He became Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at St. Mary’s Hospital, Imperial College, in 1985 and initiated genetic studies of Alzheimer’s disease whilst there. He was appointed Associate Professor in 1989 and then took the Pfeiffer Endowed Chair of Alzheimer’s Research at the University of South Florida, in Tampa in 1992.

In 1996 he moved to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, as Consultant and Professor of Neuroscience. He became Chair of Neuroscience in 2000 and moved to NIA as Chief of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics in 2001. He won the MetLife, the Allied Signal and the Potamkin Prize for his work in describing the first genetic mutations, in the amyloid gene in Alzheimer’s disease, in 1991. He was Head of the Neurogenetics Section, National Institute of Ageing, Bethesda, USA and in 2007 took up the Chair of Molecular Biology of Neurological Disease at the UCL Institute of Neurology. With over 23,000 citations, Prof Hardy is the most cited Alzheimer’s disease researcher in the UK (5th internationally). In recognition of his exceptional contributions to science, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2009. John won the Breakthrough Prize 2015 for his tremendous work on Alzheimer’s disease.