Tributes to creator of hepatitis vaccine who studied in city.
Tributes have been paid to a Birmingham professor who is credited with saving countless lives after developing the first vaccine against viral hepatitis B. Professor Sir Kenneth Murray, who has died aged 82, led the quest to tackle the killer virus in the 1970s, using the then new field of genetic engineering.
But Sir Kenneth began his career from a humble start - he left school at 16 and ended up working as a laboratory technician for high street chain Boots.
He was desperate to better himself and enrolled part time at the University of Birmingham, successfully earning a first class honours degree in Chemistry and then a PhD in Microbiology.
His time in Birmingham also had a profound influence on his life, for it was while studying that he met Noreen Parker, then studying for a PhD in Microbial Genetics.
They married in 1958 and she went on to become a close scientific collaborator.
During his research into the devastating liver disease, Sir Kenneth is credited with developing gene cloning, where DNA from two different species are inserted into a host organism, allowing for new genetic combinations.
The University of Edinburgh team's work, which included his wife Noreen, was hailed as a revolution for scientists in terms of understanding how cells work, how genetics works and how to understand the development of organisms so treatments can be devised when things go wrong.
Sir Kenneth then applied the principles to the practical task of creating a vaccine for hepatitis B. This condition, which today still affects more than 300 million unvaccinated people around the world, lacked reliable treatment and could be fatal. Murray found a way to identify the hepatitis B virus and then produced a man made vaccine.
The work had to be carried out in a secure lab because concerns had been raised that carrying out research in this way presented a threat to mankind in itself.
By 1978 he and his team had created the vaccine. Sir Kenneth then established Biogen, a company which commercially developed it for use. Today, the global market for the hepatitis vaccine exceeds PS650 million each year.
Professor Steve Busby, Head of School of Biosciences, at the University of Birmingham said: "Ken Murray, and his wife, Noreen, were involved in the development of the tools that opened up the way to cloning genes. Based at the University of Edinburgh, they were part of the first molecular biology department in the UK, founded in the 1960s.
"Their work underpinned the genetic engineering revolution of the 1970s and 80s that led to whole genome sequencing, the creation of recombinant DNA molecules and the identification of genes for just about any trait. This, in turn, led to protein engineering and the current synthetic biology revolution. Following his early successes Ken turned his attention to exploiting the new technology to create vaccines, which he did with stunning success.
"This was one of the early successes of applying recombinant DNA and this led to the formation of the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh, a charity that put the profits to good use. Ken was an amazingly generous man, totally unassuming and very modest, who genuinely delighted in science and what it could do for mankind."
Kenneth Murray was born on December 30 1930 in Yorkshire and brought up in the Midlands, the son of a miner turned school caretaker.
After studying at Birmingham, he left for a post-doctoral year at Stanford University, in America, in 1959 and ended up staying there for the next five years, before returning to the UK to work in the Medical Research Council laboratory of molecular biology.
He joined the University of Edinburgh in 1967 at what was then the only department of molecular biology in the country. He was appointed Biogen Professor of Molecular Biology in 1984.
Huge amounts of money was generated from the hepatitis B vaccine, and Sir Kenneth used this income to found the Darwin Trust in 1983. At the time he said: "I could have taken the money but I don't need to. I don't particularly want a Rolls- Royce."
The trust has supported the education of many young scientists, and helped to fund cutting edge research and improved facilities at the University of Edinburgh. Following his retirement Murray dedicated himself increasingly to the trust's efforts.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1979, received the Willem Meindart de Hoop Prize in 1983, and in 1992 was given a Saltire Society Science Award. In 2000 he was awarded a Royal Medal by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and two years ago he and his wife jointly received a lifetime achievement award from Nexus Life Sciences.
He was knighted in 1993. Recently the Noreen and Kenneth Murray Library was built at the King's Buildings Science Campus at the University of Edinburgh, recognising the couple's distinguished careers and their commitment to the advancement of science.
Noreen died in 2011.
Professor Sir Kenneth Murray
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Apr 18, 2013|
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