Sir John Skehel FMedSci FRS

John Skehel has provided major insights into the molecular basis of how viruses recognise and infect their host cells. John focusses on the virus that causes influenza, of which there are 3–5 million cases a year worldwide, resulting in up to 500,000 deaths. 

To infect a cell, the influenza virus must bind to a sialic acid-containing receptor on the cell surface, which it achieves through its own haemagglutinin glycoprotein. John was able to isolate, crystallise and subsequently determine the three-dimensional structure of this molecule. He also observed that under conditions of low pH, haemagglutinin changes shape — allowing the virus to fuse with and enter the cell.

John has been a leader in virology research for over thirty years. He headed the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza between 1975 and 1993 and was the Director of the National Institute for Medical Research from 1987–2006. His pioneering research was recognised in 1996 when he received a knighthood.

Professional position

  • Emeritus Scientist, The Francis Crick Institute

Subject groups

  • Biochemistry and molecular cell biology

    Biochemistry and molecular biology, Biophysics and structural biology, Molecular microbiology, Cell biology (incl molecular cell biology), Molecular immunology

  • Microbiology, immunology and developmental biology

    General microbiology (incl bacteriology and virology), Cellular and humoral immunology


  • Leeuwenhoek Medal and Lecture

    On 'How enveloped viruses enter cells'.

  • Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine

    No citation available for this award.

  • Royal Medals

    For his pioneering research into virology. His studies and discoveries in the mechanisms by which influenza virus binds to the host cell, and in virus-cell membrane fusion have had a fundamental impact on the field.

Sir John Skehel FMedSci FRS
Elected 1984