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Patrick Johnston (Northern Ireland academic)

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Patrick Johnston FMedSci (1958 – 4 June 2017) was the vice-chancellor and President of Queen's University Belfast. He held office from March 1, 2014 until his death.[1] He was also a leading expert in cancer research.[2][3]

Patrick Johnston
12th President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University Belfast
In office
1 March 2014 – 4 June 2017
Preceded by Sir Peter Gregson
Succeeded by vacant
Personal details
Born 1958
Derry, Northern Ireland
Died (aged 58)
County Donegal, Ireland
Children 4
Residence Belfast, Northern Ireland
Alma mater University College Dublin
Profession Physician
Cancer researcher
Website Vice Chancellor's Office



Johnston was originally from the Waterside area of Derry. He attended St. Columb's College and obtained a MB BCh with distinction from University College Dublin (UCD).[4] He was married with four grown up sons and one grandson.[5]


After qualifying from UCD, Johnston worked in the Mater and St James's hospitals in Dublin, where he specialised in oncology and haematology.[6]

In 1987 he took up a fellowship at the National Cancer Institute at Bethesda, Maryland, where he undertook doctoral studies in molecular pharmacology, and was subsequently offered tenure in 1993.[7]

He began his career at Queen's in 1996, when he was appointed Professor of Oncology. Prior to his appointment as vice-chancellor he was Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences. In 2007 he led the development of a new international Medical School at Queen’s and the Institute of Health Sciences. Prior to these he was the Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at the University.[citation needed]

Johnston was made chair of the Translational Research Group of the Medical Research Council (MRC) in 2012. He received the 2013 International Bob Pinedo Cancer Care Prize for his work in translating discovery science for the benefit of cancer patients.[8] He served on the Cancer Research UK (CR-UK) Science Executive/Advisory Board, and co-founded Almac Diagnostics (based in Craigavon) and the Society for Translational Oncology in Durham, North Carolina.[citation needed]

He was a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (appointed 2012) and the National Cancer Institute (appointed 1987). He was made a senior investigator at the NCI in 1991. In 2012 he was awarded the Diamond Jubilee Queen’s Anniversary Prize, for his leadership at the University’s Comprehensive Cancer Centre.[4]

Johnston had a vision for Queen's as a world class international university that supports outstanding students and staff, working in world class facilities, conducting leading-edge education and research, focused on the needs of society. This vision had been challenged by some as 'marketisation', contrary to the nature of the university as a seat of culture, learning, open-mindedness and free speech. On 20 April 2015, Johnston cancelled a conference that was to be held on Understanding Charlie: New perspectives on contemporary citizenship after Charlie Hebdo, citing "security risks" and "the reputation of the university". This was criticised as censoring an academic forum on the subject of free speech.[9] After consideration, the conference proceeded.[10] Johnston generated some controversy again in May 2016, when he commented in an interview that "society doesn't need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian".[11]


Johnston died suddenly after a bicycle ride in June 2017 in County Donegal.[12]


  1. ^ "New vice-chancellor at QUB". Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "Cancer research expert Prof Patrick Johnston is new QUB president". 8 October 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "Meet the global cancer expert from Derry who's landed £200,000-a-year post as head of Queen's University". 9 October 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Professor Patrick Johnston takes up QUB Presidency". Derry Journal. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  5. ^ "Patrick Johnston: Queen's University VC dies suddenly". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 4 June 2017. 
  6. ^ "Cancer researcher and university administrator who contributed to Ireland’s workplace smoking ban". The Irish Times. 10 June 2017. Retrieved 11 June 2017. 
  7. ^ "President and vice chancellor of Queen’s University dies suddenly". The Irish Times. 4 June 2017. Retrieved 11 June 2017. 
  8. ^ "Professor Patrick G. Johnston Awarded Society for Translational Oncology's Pinedo Prize". The Oncologist. Retrieved 4 June 2017. 
  9. ^ Reidy, Padraig (21 April 2015). "Queen’s University Belfast cancels Charlie Hebdo conference, citing security fears". Little Atoms. Retrieved 4 June 2017. 
  10. ^ McDonald, Henry (2017-05-01). "University to go ahead with Charlie Hebdo conference after outcry". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 4 June 2017. 
  11. ^ "Northern Ireland at 18; we cannot afford to lose such talent - but they'll only return if there are opportunities". Belfast Telegraph. 30 May 2016. Retrieved 11 June 2017. 
  12. ^ "Obituary: Prof Patrick Johnston - a great mind whose work saved lives". Belfast Telegraph. 5 June 2017. Retrieved 11 June 2017.