Skip to content

World-leading researcher on infectious diseases in poultry wins 2024 Plowright Prize

24 June 2024

prof fiona tomley

Microbiologist and poultry health specialist Professor Fiona Tomley CBE, PhD, DVM (Honorary) has been awarded the Plowright Prize in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the reduction of infectious diseases in poultry.

The Prize is awarded biennially to an individual who has made a significant impact on the control, management or eradication of infectious diseases of animals. Fiona, who is Professor of Experimental Parasitology at the Royal Veterinary College, will use the £100,000 prize money to set up a global mentoring network for veterinary infectious disease researchers with a focus on ‘One Health’ – the integrated approach to sustainably balance and optimise the health of people, animals, and ecosystems. 

In an impactful career spanning four decades, Fiona’s research has involved basic science discovery, technological advances, industrial collaboration, international research leadership, and knowledge exchange. She has contributed substantially to the understanding and control of viral and parasitic pathogens of poultry and is renowned internationally for her work on Eimeria species that cause coccidiosis in chickens.

As Director of the UKRI GCRF 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.

Professor Tomley said: “It is a huge honour to receive the Plowright Prize and I am delighted that my work, and that of my colleagues and collaborators, has been recognised by the judging panel. Taking a One Health approach is a team effort, requiring researchers to communicate across disciplines, translate basic science to useful outcomes, advocate for science at its interface with policy, and collaborate with researchers from different geographical settings. As we enter the final phase of the One Health Poultry Hub, I’d particularly like to thank everyone who has participated, including the 55 investigators and 100 researchers from 27 institutions – many of them in South Asia – working as part of the Hub.

Speaking of her plans to use the Prize money to support early-career researchers, she said: “Researchers at the beginning of their careers are under extreme amounts of pressure, particularly when they move into leadership roles. This is especially tough for women, those in resource-poor settings, or those without access to support. I hope to help the next generation of researchers by providing mentorship opportunities to those in the UK and in low-and-middle income countries where many pathogens that pose a threat to animal and public health are endemic.”

The Plowright Prize is awarded by RCVS Knowledge thanks to generous funding from the estate of Walter Plowright – the veterinary scientist whose development of a vaccine against rinderpest provided the key to eliminating the disease. In 2010, the year of Walter Plowright’s death, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations officially announced the complete eradication of the disease, only the second such feat in human history, alongside the eradication of smallpox.

Katie Mantell, our Chief Executive Officer, 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. The judging panel, comprising representatives from leading organisations working in animal health and infectious diseases, were hugely impressed by the extent, global reach, and impact of Professor Tomley’s work. I am delighted that the Prize is being awarded to an individual so deserving of the accolade and with exciting plans for using the funds to support future generations of research leaders.”

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.

The 2025/26 round of the Plowright Prize will open in the second half of 2025. If you would like to receive email updates to let you know when nominations for the 2025/26 award are open, please sign up here.

Read more news