Dr Patrick Vallance, president of research and development at pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, will take up the role of chief scientific adviser from spring 2018.
He will take over from interim chief prof Chris Whitty, who has been in post since September following the departure of Sir Mark Walport to lead new public body UK Research and Innovation.
Vallance, who has previously advised government as a member of the UK Ministerial Industry Strategy Group, will provide scientific counsel to the prime minister and her cabinet.
Prior to his six years as GSK research president, Vallance was head of medicine at University College London. He said it was a “great honour” to join the civil service.
“Science, engineering and technology have a vital role to play at the heart of policy making and are critical to economic growth and prosperity in the UK as well as to addressing many of the greatest challenges of our time, such as environmental change and keeping our citizens healthy and secure,” he added.
“I look forward to working with colleagues to ensure the government has the best possible advice, from the best experts, based on the strongest evidence, to inform the widest range of policy decisions.”
Cabinet secretary and civil service head Sir Jeremy Heywood said Vallance was well placed to offer the best scientific advice to Theresa May.
“This is an excellent appointment for the civil service, in an important area of government business,” he said.
“I am also looking forward to the contribution Patrick will make in leading the science community across government, building on the great work of Sir Mark Walport, his predecessor.”
Heywood praised the “invaluable contribution” that Walport, who was appointed in 2013, had made to Whitehall’s science capability and policy development.
Also commenting on the announcement, science minister Jo Johnson said that Vallance’s extensive knowledge and experience from academia and the private sector would play a central role in government’s ambitions to build a “worldwide reputation as a science powerhouse”.