Professor Sir Kenneth Murray: Scientist who developed the vaccine against hepatitis B

 

As chairman of the Court of the University of Edinburgh between 2003 and 2006 I was in a position to know something that Sir Ken Murray – he was Ken, not Kenneth to his vast array of friends in the scientific community worldwide – and his wife, Lady Noreen, did not want generally known: that they had donated over £12m to their university. This fund accrued from the patent rights of Murray's work, which spearheaded the fight against hepatitis. Murray and his Edinburgh team found a way to identify the hepatitis B virus, which seriously damages the liver, and developed a vaccine against it. He was also a co-founder of the biotech company Biogen, which patented the vaccine.

The late Lord George Porter, President of the Royal Society, was only one of those in a position to make a meaningful, peer-related judgement that had Murray been a little more pushy and a little less modest he would have been accorded a Nobel Prize. The unusual team of husband and wife was highly regarded in the Royal Society, not least because they worked in rather different specialist disciplines, Ken as a molecular biologist, and Noreen as a cell biologist.

At Birmingham University he had met Noreen, then a PhD student, in the Department of Microbiology. They married in 1958, and left for a post-doctoral year at Stanford in 1959. So much did they like California, and California like them, that one year turned into five years. Returning to Cambridge in 1964, they worked with Fred Sanger, who was about to win not one but two Nobel Prizes. At the end of their allotted time, the Murrays were due to go to the then infant York University. Providently, as it later turned out, they had a not very serious car crash which meant that it was difficult immediately to transfer home to York. Writing to the University of York to ask for a postponement, Murray received the curt letter, "Dear Murray, Postponement is unacceptable. You will be in York by 30 September. Yours faithfully, University Secretary." Murray showed the letter to Sanger, whom he never otherwise saw angry. Furious on this one occasion, Sanger told Murray that he should do his lectures in York, but having fulfilled his obligation should wait in Cambridge for another opportunity.

It was in this period that Murray formed a lifelong friendship with the Argentinian researcher Cesar Milstein, identifier of monoclonal antibodies. After two years the ideal opportunity came, in the form of an invitation from Professor Martin Pollock to join his group at Edinburgh University.

In June 1982, during the Falklands War, Milstein came to lunch with me at the House of Commons; the first thing he said to me was not about the conflict, but: "How is Ken Murray?" It was an indication of the regard in which Murray was held by the international figures in his field.

Murray's watershed moment arrived in 1978. By a whisker - "it was a damned close-run thing" – he pipped the Institut Pasteur in Paris in patenting the drugs which defy the scourge of hepatitis.

With the support of the discerning Edinburgh University Secretary, Alex Corrie, Murray was given three years' leave of absence (unusual for a professor) to join John Kendrew at the European Molecular Biology Organisation in Heidelberg. As a member of the European Parliament returning to Heathrow on a Thursday night, I would often sit next to Kendrew. As EMBO Director he enthused not only about Murray's contribution, but at the way he inspired his colleagues from Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands.

Murray used his share of the royalties from his vaccine to establish the Darwin Trust, which supports education and research in natural science. "I could have taken the money but I don't need to," he said. "I don't particularly want a Rolls- Royce."

In retirement, Murray's devotion to research was undimmed. He was ever-welcomed by younger colleagues, who might have been his grandchildren, at the Darwin Building – to the development of which he had been so generous a contributor – on account of his willingness to give gentle help when asked. He walked to the labs, seven days most weeks, from his South Morningside home.

In his late seventies Murray was still making significant contributions to interaction specificity between nucleic acids and proteins, and genetic manipulation, particularly for amplification of gene expression.

Kenneth Murray, molecular biologist: born East Ardsley 30 December 1930; Biogen Professor of Molecular Biology, University of Edinburgh 1984–98; Kt 1993; married 1958 Noreen Parker (died 2011); died 7 April 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence