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Dr Robert A Watson

Dr Robert A Watson

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Robert A Watson


Academic Clinical Lecturer

  • DPhil Student, Dept. of Oncology and WIMM
  • Specialist Registrar in Medical Oncology, OUH
  • Director of Graduate Entry Medicine, Worcester College

I am reading for a DPhil on a Wellcome Trust Fellowship within Ben Fairfax’s molecular oncology group. My research focuses on the genetics of immune cells in patients with melanoma. I’m also a doctor and I combine laboratory research with clinical practice.

In the last 5 years, the treatment of cancer has undergone a paradigm shift and the increasingly widespread use of immunotherapies has created a new field within oncology and cancer research. There is a high degree of variability in response to checkpoint inhibitor therapy, and whilst many patients receive clear benefits from these treatments, a subset have adverse side effects or may not respond at all. We currently have a poor understanding of why there is such inter-individual variation.

By using clinical samples from patients with melanoma and kidney cancer who are undergoing treatment with immunotherapies, we are hoping to try to unpick and understand the mechanisms at play.

The techniques I am use range from flow cytometry, to immune receptor profiling and single cell gene sequencing. The amount of data generated is vast and requires good computational skills to analyse.

I currently work one morning a week in the cancer clinic and once I've completed my DPhil will return to clinical training in Medical Oncology whilst still continuing with my research.

I previously worked in Ben's group from 2017-2018 on a 1-year NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship, with additional funding from Cancer Research UK following a successful application for a pre-doctoral research bursary. This allowed me to complete preliminary work, forming the basis of my doctoral application, and which is currently under submission.

As well as this, I am Director of Graduate Entry Medicine at Worcester College. I organise all of the College teaching for the medical students on the accelerated medicine course (i.e. those graduates who have done other degrees and now want to study medicine) and also teach the clinical medical students at Worcester.

Prior to my DPhil, I studied medicine at Oxford before undertaking clinical training in North West London and some research at Imperial College London. Additionally, I’m interested in Healthcare Policy and spent some time as a researcher at The Nuffield Trust think tank. Many of my publications therefore have a policy/public health slant to them.

During the COVID-19 pandemic I went on Secondment to the Medical Resarch Council, working on the Due Diligence team for the UK Covid Therapeutics Advisory Panel, the UK Government's independent advisory panel. UK-CTAP was responsible for recommending drugs to England's Chief Medical Officer for inclusion into pubilcly-funded Covid-19 trials in the UK. This experience gave me great insights and experience into clinical trial design, drug development and some of the practicalities and processes of developing new therapeutics at scale.