Rupert Beale

Rupert Beale is a clinician scientist group leader at the Francis Crick Institute.

On Omicron

Rupert Beale, 16 December 2021

We have seen​ plenty of viral variants, some with Spike genes of sufficient interest to merit a Greek letter. Spike is the virus’s entry weapon, and the bit of the virus that’s targeted by vaccines. If your antibodies block Spike, you block the virus – and if Spike has mutated, it may have become better at dodging those antibodies. Delta has been the most vicious variant so...

On the Delta Variant

Rupert Beale, 1 July 2021

In​ Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Professor Challenger takes a party of adventurers to South America, where they discover a plateau filled with dinosaurs. The book’s lesser-known sequel, The Poison Belt, isn’t quite so thrilling, and not only because of the disappointing lack of dinosaurs. This time Challenger summons the same cast to Sussex, where he tells them that...


Rupert Beale, 4 March 2021

Biologists​ love abbreviations, but we often use them clumsily. What may sound like catchy acronyms to one group of researchers are tiresome jargon to colleagues in related fields. Fruit fly geneticists have taken whimsy to absurdity: MAD stands for ‘Mothers Against Decapentaplegic’. The ‘decapentaplegic’ bit comes from a mutant fly that doesn’t correctly...

Get the jab!

Rupert Beale, 17 December 2020

Do you remember​ the spring? We were said to be ‘following the science’, but the scientific advice was kept secret. The minutes of Sage meetings were not published; even the ad hoc membership of the government’s advisory group was uncertain. Now that the minutes are available, they make grim reading. A vaccine would not arrive in any useful timeframe; there was no...

In the Lab

Rupert Beale, 13 August 2020

On​ 29 July, I received ‘Coronavirus (Covid-19) update: issue 97’ from my university. I understand from dimly remembered friends and colleagues outside the Covidology bubble that 2020 hasn’t been much fun for them either. We’re all tetchy. Those of us who have been working round the clock on increasing testing capacity are also thoroughly exhausted. In March we ran on...

Short Cuts: How to Block Spike

Rupert Beale, 21 May 2020

Measuring immunity is important, but it isn’t easy. The most obvious way is to look for the presence of antibodies. But antibodies to what? The virus has many components. Its main entry weapon is known as Spike. This is a large, sugar-coated protein complex that can rip a hole in the membrane of a cell to allow the virus to enter. Block Spike, and you keep the virus out. It’s easy enough to measure antibodies to Spike, but not all of them actually prevent the virus from entering cells. To find out whether the antibodies are doing their job effectively, you have to culture the virus in a high-containment facility, titrate tiny amounts of serum extracted from the test subject’s blood into the virus culture, and demonstrate that the serum blocks the virus. It’s painfully slow. We are working on ways to make these assays faster, easier and more accurate. So are many others, and for once I’m happy when another lab does something better.

Short Cuts: Wash Your Hands

Rupert Beale, 19 March 2020

In countries where rapid testing and isolation do not happen, the disease will at its peak rapidly overwhelm the ability of hospitals to cope, and the case fatality rate will be much higher. The global case fatality rate is above 3 per cent at the moment, and if – reasonable worst case scenario – 30-70 per cent of the 7.8 billion people on earth are infected, that means between 70 and 165 million deaths. It would be the worst disaster in human history in terms of total lives lost. Nobody expects this, because everyone expects that people will comply with efficient public health measures put in place by responsible governments.

Diary: Edit Your Own Genes

Rupert Beale, 22 February 2018

The business​ of science is intensely frustrating. Most experiments fail, most great ideas come to nothing, and most genuine discoveries turn out to be of modest importance. Years of effort can easily be wasted on what turns out to be a mirage. In biology, we usually fail for the dullest of reasons: a test wasn’t as specific as we thought, a wondrous result proved to be a simple...

From The Blog
12 January 2016

It’s wrong to jeopardise patient care, even if it means working very long hours for mediocre pay. That’s why junior doctors will often turn up to work if they are themselves ill, and why they haven't gone on strike for forty years. The leader of the BMA Junior Doctors described today as ‘the saddest day in our profession’s recent history’. It’s difficult to disagree. This is not because emergency care was compromised. The service provided by junior doctors today was on a par with that of a bank holiday (the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton was more disruptive to the NHS). Around 3500 patients had elective procedures cancelled, though, and this dispute isn’t their fault.

From The Blog
10 December 2015

I was one of ten thousand people who marched on Westminster to protest against the unjust and unsafe imposition of a new deal for junior doctors by an arrogant government. The reforms treated us like cogs in a malfunctioning machine, abolishing our autonomy and any consideration for family life. We cheered as the leader of the opposition spoke up for us, told us how much the NHS meant to him, and explained how the government had got it wrong by undervaluing junior doctors. The year was 2007, and the speaker was David Cameron.

From The Blog
23 September 2015

In Yes Minister, 'one of the best run hospitals in the country' turns out to have a major advantage: it has no patients. This week, the Care Quality Commission said that the hospital I work at, Addenbrooke's in Cambridge, is 'inadequate', despite acknowledging that the care provided to patients is 'outstanding', with one of the lowest standardised mortality rates in the UK. This outstanding hospital is so inadequate that it's been placed in what are euphemistically termed 'special measures'.

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