Pioneering British scientist whose work could save millions dies aged 29

By John Mercury October 10, 2023

A pioneering British scientist whose work developing antibiotics had her featured on Forbes’ 30 under 30 Europe list has died from cancer aged 29.

Doctor Kirsty Smitten was co-founder and chief executive of MetalloBio, a company which has created new antibiotics aimed at saving millions of lives.

She featured on Forbes’ 30 under 30 Europe list in 2020 for her work in helping combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which causes antibiotics to become ineffective in preventing and treating infections.

Kirsty Smitten working as a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield. Pic: University of Sheffield
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Kirsty Smitten working as a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield. Pic: University of Sheffield

The Solihull biochemist died on 4 October after being diagnosed with cardiac angiosarcoma in late January – a tumour in the heart.

Kirsty’s older brother, Matt Smitten, who described her as “determined, resilient and caring”, told Sky News: “She could have gone down a different avenue and had a much better chance of success, because there’s not much money in the area.

“But she saw this was the area where she could have the biggest impact and save lives. She was trying to help as many people as she could… she was very, very altruistic.”

Kirsty’s company, MetalloBio, is continuing its work to develop two lead compounds designed to counter AMR, which is responsible for 1.2 million deaths per year globally and has been marked up as an “urgent priority” by the World Health Organization.

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Kirsty was working even when she struggled to breathe, her family said

Sukhi Smitten, Kirsty’s sister-in-law and wife of her brother, Matt, added: “Her work was her passion and she was even working as she went through chemotherapy.

“She was still pitching and trying to get grants when she was struggling to breathe and to walk. She carried on trying to help push the research forward.”

The 29-year-old’s philanthropic nature went beyond work, as her diagnosis became a catalyst for helping other cancer patients deal with the disease.

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Matt explained: “She took it hard, but only cried for about a minute [after the diagnosis]. And then she was straight on the internet looking at treatments and speaking to people who had gone through the same thing.

“As a family, we didn’t even really know how much of an impact Kirst had had on other people with cancer.

“It was only through posts on comments on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok [after Kirsty died] that we truly realised the impact she had.

“They were saying things like: ‘Kirsty was the first person I spoke to after my diagnosis’. She didn’t really speak about that. She was humble.

“But the reach she had in terms of helping people going through a similar thing to her is amazing.”

Kirsty’s family hopes that her legacy will continue through both MetalloBio and through a charity they plan to set up in her name. They have set up a fundraiser for that charity, which you can find here.

Her Instagram and TikTok accounts, where she shared information about her disease, are still available as a resource for those who wish to learn more about cardiac angiosarcoma.

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