Tributes to Creator of Hepatitis Vaccine Who Studied in City

The Birmingham Post (England), April 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

Tributes to Creator of Hepatitis Vaccine Who Studied in City


Byline: BENHURST ben.hurst@birminghampost.net

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. …

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