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New Year Honours: Bishop's Stortford woman who heads agency that approved first Covid-19 vaccine joins Joanna Lumley, Vanessa Redgrave, Olympic cyclist Laura Kenny and NHS Test and Trace chief Dr Jenny Harries as dame



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A pharmacologist from Bishop's Stortford who heads the body that approved the first Covid-19 vaccine – thereby kick-starting the UK's largest ever immunisation programme – has been made a dame in the Queen's New Year Honours.

Dr June Raine is chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which is responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work and are acceptably safe.

She came to public prominence 13 months ago when the MHRA, an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care, was the first Western regulator to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, namely BioNTech-Pfizer's.

Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, in 2019 (54029308)
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, in 2019 (54029308)

Decisions taken by Dr Raine ensured that the agency’s laboratories operated throughout the pandemic, carrying out vital work on the virus. Her direction ensured access to medicines and medical devices for Covid patients.

The 69-year-old is one of an illustrious group of 13 women named dames in the 2022 New Year Honours that also includes actresses Joanna Lumley and Vanessa Redgrave, record Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Laura Kenny and Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency and head of NHS Test and Trace.

She is honoured for services to healthcare and the Covid-19 response. It comes 12 years after she was made a CBE – Commander of the Order of the British Empire – in the Queen's 2009 Birthday Honours.

William 'Bill' Shakespeare, 81, receives the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, in December 2020 at the start of the largest ever immunisation programme in the UK's history. Picture: PA
William 'Bill' Shakespeare, 81, receives the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, in December 2020 at the start of the largest ever immunisation programme in the UK's history. Picture: PA

Dr Raine, who has been MHRA chief for just over two years, has had a life-long career in medicines regulation.

In 1971 she went to Somerville College, Oxford, where she obtained a BA degree in physiology in 1974 and an MSc in pharmacology in 1975. She then obtained a medical degree from Oxford University Medical School in 1978. She became a Member of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP).

In 1985, Dr Raine joined the Department of Health and Social Security's medicines division before that function moved to the newly-formed MHRA in 2003. In 2006, she was appointed director of vigilance and risk management in the medicines division. She took up the post of chief executive of the MHRA in September 2019.

In 2012 she became the founding chair of the European Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee, strengthening drug safety decision-making. She is held in high regard by other regulators in the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities and as co-chair of the World Health Organisation's advisory committee on safety of medicinal products.

Margaret Keenan, 90, walks with nurse May Parsons (left) after becoming the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, at the start of the largest ever immunisation programme in the UK's history. Picture: PA
Margaret Keenan, 90, walks with nurse May Parsons (left) after becoming the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, at the start of the largest ever immunisation programme in the UK's history. Picture: PA

On December 2, 2020, the MHRA became the first global medicines regulator in history to approve an mRNA vaccine for use in humans, granting "emergency authorisation" for BioNTech-Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for "widespread use".

Five days later, Dr Raine defended the agency's approval of the BNT162b2 vaccine in an article she wrote for The Times headlined: "How we backed a Covid vaccine before rest of the West".

The authorisation drew criticism from European Union legislators, who called the MHRA's decision "hasty" and "problematic". The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that a longer approval procedure was needed using more detailed evidence and checks than the EMA's "emergency authorisation" route chosen by Dr Raine, given the vaccine's novel nature and the potential scale of its distribution.

How the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine works. Infographic: PA Graphics
How the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine works. Infographic: PA Graphics

The MHRA went on to authorise supply of vaccines from Oxford University and AstraZeneca on December 30, Moderna on January 8, 2021, and Janssen on May 28. It confirmed in September that "booster" doses of these vaccines would be safe and effective, but said that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation had to advise if and when they should be used in this way.

Dr Raine met her late husband, Tony Raine, at uni in Oxford. He died of colon cancer in 1995, aged 46. They had two children.

Dr June Raine and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (54029451)
Dr June Raine and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (54029451)


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