Professor Fiona Tomley, Director of the GCRF One Health Poultry Hub, has been awarded the prestigious Plowright Prize by the UK’s RCVS Knowledge in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the reduction of infectious diseases in poultry. She will use the prize fund of £100,000 to establish a mentoring network to support future leaders in One Health infectious disease research.

Spanning more than four decades, Fiona’s career has included basic science discovery, technological advances, industrial collaboration, international research leadership and knowledge exchange. She has contributed substantially to the understanding and control of animal disease, particularly viral and parasitic pathogens of poultry, and is renowned internationally for her work on Eimeria and coccidiosis. She currently holds the position of Professor of Experimental Parasitology at the Royal Veterinary College, UK, which is the lead partner in the One Health Poultry Hub.

RCVS Knowledge said that as Director of the One Health Poultry Hub Fiona has “exhibited exemplary research leadership on a global scale, forging cross-sector collaboration to address the challenge of how to achieve sustainable intensification of chicken meat and egg production while reducing risks to human and animal health”.

The Plowright Prize is awarded every two years. It recognises an individual whose work has had a significant impact on the control, management and eradication of infectious diseases of animals and whose contribution demonstrates animal, humanitarian or economic benefit.

Mentoring network

The  mentoring network Fiona plans to establish will be UK-led and include participants from across low- and middle-income countries, where many diseases that pose international threats to animals and people are prevalent.

The first year of the mentoring scheme will focus on identifying mentors within UK veterinary schools and research institutes and from established networks within Africa and South Asia. It will recruit its first cohort of early-career researchers to access the mentoring in 2025.

The mentoring network will establish new relationships via one-to-one mentoring, group mentoring and peer mentoring sessions. It will also organise online lectures, workshops and speaker sessions focused on interdisciplinary learning and One Health. In addition, it has the ambition to arrange in-person sessions within specific geographical regions and annual network-wide face-to-face events.

Professor Fiona Tomley said:

It is a huge honour and very exciting to receive such a prestigious award from the RCVS. I am grateful to have worked with many excellent and inspirational researchers during my career and this prize means I can catalyse the formation of a network to support future generations of research leaders in One Health research globally, bolstering efforts to protect both animals and people from zoonotic threats, and empowering researchers with an international and collaborative network through which to address One Health issues.

Professor Stuart Reid, President & Principal of the RVC, said: “I am delighted that Professor Tomley has been awarded the Plowright Prize. It is testament to the career-long commitment Fiona has shown to her science and the impact of her research in communities worldwide. I am sure Professor Plowright would fully approve that his legacy is being used to support her work and its contribution to animal and human health.”

Walter Plowright was widely regarded as one of the world’s most eminent veterinary virologists and authorities on rinderpest. His development of a tissue culture vaccine represented a key milestone in efforts to control the disease. Rinderpest remains one of only two infectious diseases that have been fully eradicated.

The judging panel for the Plowright Prize comprises representatives from leading organisations and societies working in veterinary care and animal health, food and agriculture, and microbiology.

Katie Mantell, Chief Executive Officer at RCVS Knowledge, said: “We received a large number of high-calibre nominations for the Plowright Prize this year, and Professor Tomley’s work stood out due to the strength of her research credentials and the clarity and vision of her proposed use of the Prize fund.”

Read Fiona’s blog ‘Catalysing a mentoring network for tomorrow’s One Health leaders