Professor John Blacker


Educational History

  • 1981-1984: Joint Sp. Hons. Biochemistry and Chemistry, University of Sheffield
  • 1984-1985: Diplome D’Etudes Approfondies en Chimie Organique, Université Louis Pasteur,
  • 1984-88: PhD, Université Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg supervised by Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn
  • 1989-90: Postdoctoral Fellow, Cambridge University, Prof. Sir Alan Fersht

Employment History

  • 1990-2009: ICI BioProducts, ICI FCMO, Zeneca Specialties, Avecia Fine Chemicals, Piramal Healthcare, (same employment contract) with career progression from Senior Researcher to Technical Director
  • 2006-2009: Two 50% jobs with Piramal Pharma and School of Chemistry. Founder member of Institute of Process Research and Development, (iPRD) at the University of Leeds
  • 2009-date: Full Professor of Process Chemistry and Technical Director of iPRD; jointly appointed to the Schools of Chemistry and Chemical and Process Engineering


My area of expertise is in route design and chemical process research and development applied to the Pharmaceutical, Agrochemical, Fine and Speciality Chemical Industries. I had a 20 year industry career during which I scaled-up to manufacture a number of batch and flow processes employing proprietary catalytic asymmetric (transfer) (de)hydrogenation; biotransformations; resolution and crystallisation processes. In 2007 I was awarded the RSC Award in Process Technology. In 2006 I helped found the iPRD at the University of Leeds to help bridge academic innovation with industry needs, and since 2009 I have been a full academic professor. I have grants from EU, Innovate UK, EPSRC, and industry. I work with around 15 academics in chemistry and chemical engineering to help align the needs of the iPRD Industrial Club with their expertise.

Previous Employment 1989-2009

Technology Director for Piramal Healthcare (formerly NPIL Pharma, Avecia, Zeneca, ICI) reporting to both the CSO and President of Piramal Healthcare. Leading the Piramal Innovations Group and providing high-level technical support for the organisation, my group of 10 staff across the UK and India were particularly involved in the identification and development of projects focusing on the application and commercialisation of competitive chemical and chiral technologies. Other responsibilities included management of group budget, patent portfolio, academic relations, techno-commercial support. Prior to this I was Technical Director for Avecia Fine Chemicals R+D, responsible for strategic R+D in department of 50 people; Senior Scientist in Zeneca and ICI.

Research interests

My research group has about 12 people, including PhD and PDRA chemists, biologists and engineers, based in the iPRD Process Laboratory. The overall R&D aims for the Blacker group (; are in developing more sustainable, competitive and value-adding processes for chemical production. Specific themes are: bio- and chemo-catalysis in which the group have worked on the development and application of: whole cell and enzymatic biotransformations such as arene dioxygenases, hydrolases and dehydrogenases; invented, developed and applied the CATHy™ catalysts for hydrogen transfer reactions which are being used in a growing number of applications.

These have been extended to non-PGI N-alkylations, resolution-racemisation, crystallisation induced transformations and a variety of other processes. Current interests are in the integration of chemo- and bio- catalysts and their use in efficient continuous flow processes. Renewable feedstocks: catalytic deoxygenation of polyphenolic mixtures to make sustainable and useful aromatics for example guaiacol to anisole and vanillin to anisaldeyde. Process Development: controlled batch and flow methods for selective reactions such as monoprotection in difunctional materials; continuous crystallisation; flow biotransformations; electrophilic amination; amide formation.I am currently responsible for the chemocatalysis part of a large IMI project. I sit on the steering group of the National Catalysis Hub. 


  • BSc Sp. Hons. Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • DEA Chimies Organiques
  • PhD, Universite Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg

Professional memberships

  • Member of Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Society of Chemistry in Industry
  • American Chemical Society

Student education

The focus of my teaching is in Chemical and Process Research and Development. This is an under-recognised area that is  greatly required by the chemical manufacturing industry. Together with iPRD colleagues we have established an MSc course in Chemical Process Research and Development that has been running several years, and I am involved in establishing an MSc in Biopharmaceuticals that includes process development and manufacture.

I teach to under- and post-graduates skills in process development and manufacture. Some of the courses I help organise involve teaching by industry experts from a variety of UK chemical companies.

Research groups and institutes

  • Institute of Process Research and Development
  • Complex Systems and Processes
  • Industrial Biotechnology