Sir Shankar Balasubramanian is the Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and a senior group leader at Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Institute. He is recognised for his contributions to the chemistry, structure and function of nucleic acids.
He is a co-inventor of the leading next generation DNA sequencing methodology, Solexa-Illumina sequencing that has made routine, accurate, low-cost sequencing of human genomes a reality and has revolutionised biology. He co-founded Solexa to develop and commercialise the technology.
He has invented chemistry to decode several modified (epigenetic) DNA bases and DNA secondary structures (G-quadruplexes) in the genome and has made seminal contributions towards the understanding of their dynamics and function.
Through this work the first quantitative, single-base resolution sequencing of the two most important epigenetic modifications of DNA, 5-methylcytosine and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine was developed, which subsequently led to the foundation of Cambridge Epigenetix, now rebranded as biomodal.
His work on small molecule recognition of nucleic acids has revealed molecular mechanisms that can be exploited to modulate the biology of cancer. His collective contributions span fundamental chemistry and its application to the biological and medical sciences.
Sir Shankar was knighted in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours in 2017 for his services to science and medicine and awarded the Royal Society’s Royal Medal in 2018.
In 2021, he was awarded the 2020 Millennium Technology Prize jointly with David Klenerman and the 2022 Breakthrough Prize for Life Sciences jointly with David Klenerman and Pascal Mayer for their work on sequencing technologies.