By Dr Melanie Lee CBE, CEO
It is hard to find the right words to pay tribute to Aisling Burnand, her life’s work and what she meant to the board at LifeArc and our employees. Her values, her passion and the immense contribution she bought to the life sciences sector shone through her work with us at LifeArc ever since she joined the Board as a Trustee in 2017.
Aisling and I were both fortunate enough to have careers that ran parallel to each other, with several touch-points along the way. When she was at Cancer Research UK, I was serving as a Trustee of CRUK, and when she was at the BIA, I was a CEO in the biotech industry.
In 2018, Aisling interviewed me for the CEO position at LifeArc. Throughout the process, she showed warmth and professionalism and it was such a pleasure to work with her. I felt comfortable discussing any work-related topics with her, she was an attentive listener who provided thoughtful responses. What we knew about Aisling, and what she demonstrated at all times, were her values – she had a strong belief system which was embedded into everything she did.
Aisling believed in the power of medical research to improve people’s lives, and dedicated her life to advancing medical research.
As befitting her experience and wise leadership at the AMRC, Aisling believed that science and scientists should listen to the needs of patients – and put that front and centre of research activity. She always championed the patient voice in any of our board discussions about our research platforms.
As CEO of the AMRC and a committed Trustee to us, Aisling played an invaluable role in advancing the vital work of medical research charities, especially so during the pandemic.
When she was receiving her own treatment, she took on a Trustee role at Bowel Cancer UK. She reminded us often about her belief that LifeArc must have a duty of care towards the Charity sector and ‘see’ the dedication and commitment of people who work within it – which we totally support.
Aisling was also a supporter of the Daphne Jackson Trust and she introduced us at LifeArc to the work of the Trust. I was grateful for the backing from LifeArc to support a Fellowship in her honour, and to be able to make the commitment to Aisling in person. Even though she was so incredibly unwell, she seemed delighted and moved by the gesture.
So I had mixed emotions of pleasure and sadness when I confirmed that LifeArc would sponsor five Aisling Burnand Daphne Jackson Research Fellowships, dedicated to the honour of our dear friend, colleague and trustee.
Each Fellowship will be open to talented professionals returning to life sciences research following a career break and will run for approximately three years.
These new fellowships will focus on the areas of our Translational Challenge programmes – areas of high unmet patient need where LifeArc will work with our many partners to catalyse solutions for patients.
While Aisling’s passing has left a void, her legacy will undoubtedly live on through the countless individuals she inspired and the lasting impact of her contributions.