Abraham at the Dunn School of Pathology, Oxford in 1939
Edward Penley Abraham
10 June 1913
|Died||8 May 1999(aged 85)|
|Alma mater||The Queen's College, Oxford|
|Spouse(s)||Asbjörg Abraham (nee Harung)|
|Institutions||University of Oxford|
|Thesis||Some substituted peptides and Experiments with lysozyme (1938)|
|Doctoral advisor||Sir Robert Robinson|
|Other notable students||Sir John Walker|
|Influences||Wilson Baker FRS|
Early life and education
Abraham was born on 10 June 1913 at 47 South View Road, Shirley, Southampton. From 1924 Abraham attended King Edward VI School, Southampton, before achieving a First in Chemistry at The Queen's College, Oxford.
Abraham completed his DPhil at the University of Oxford under the supervision of Sir Robert Robinson, during which he was the first to crystallise lysozyme, an enzyme discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming and shown to have antibacterial properties, and was later the first enzyme to have its structure solved using X-ray crystallography, by Lord David Philips.
He then moved back to Oxford and became part of a research team led by Sir Howard Florey at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, responsible for the development of penicillin and its medical applications. Sir Edward was specifically involved in the purification process and determination of its chemical structure. In 1940 Edward discovered penicillinase as the cause of bacterial resistance to antibiotics such as penicillin. In October 1943 Abraham and Sir Ernst Boris Chain proposed a novel beta-lactam structure with a fused two ring system. This proposal was confirmed in 1945 by Dorothy Hodgkin using X-ray crystallography. Florey formally recognised Abraham's work in 1948 by nominating him to be one of the first three "penicillin" research Fellows at Lincoln College, Oxford.
Later that year samples of a Cephalosporium acremonium fungus with antibacterial properties were received from Giuseppe Brotzu. Abraham and Guy Newton purified the antibiotics from this fungus and found one, cephalosporin C, was not degraded by penicilinase and hence able to cure infections from penicillin-resistant bacteria. During a skiing holiday in 1958 Abraham conceived the structure of cephalosporin C, which he then went on to establish with Newton, and was confirmed by Dorothy Hodgkin through X-ray crystallography. Abraham showed that modification of the 7-amino-cephalosporanic acid nucleus was able to increase the potency of this antibiotic and registered a patent on the compound. This resulted in the first commercially sold cephalosporin antibiotic Cefalotin sold by Eli Lilly and Company. There are now five generations of cephalosporins, of which some are among the few remaining antibiotics for the treatment of MRSA.
In 1964 he became Professor of Chemical Pathology, and remained a Fellow of Lincoln until his retirement in 1980.
In 1938 he met Asbjörg Harung from Norway whom he married in Bergen the following year: she remained in Norway, trapped by the German invasion, before escaping to Sweden in 1942 when she was reuinited with her husband. They had a son Michael Erling Penley Abraham, born in Oxford in July 1943.
Edward Abraham died in May 1999, in Oxford, following a stroke. He was survived by his wife, Asbjörg.
He was a noted biochemist, his work on antibiotics producing great clinical advances. His principal work was concerned with the development of penicillin, and also later cephalosporin, an antibiotic capable of destroying penicillin-resistant bacteria. These vital drugs are now used extensively in the treatment of various infections, including pneumonia, bronchitis, septicaemia and infected surgical wounds.
Through the registration of the patent on cephalosporin, he was able to generate a regular income, which he devoted almost entirely to the establishment of two charitable trusts for the support of biomedical research, the Edward Penley Abraham Research Fund, the E.P.A. Cephalosporin Fund and The Guy Newton Research Fund. As of 2016 the combined endowment of these charities is over £194 million. By the end of the twentieth century, the charitable funds had donated more than £30m to the University of Oxford, mainly to the Dunn School of Pathology and to Lincoln College, along with other grants to The Royal Society and King Edward VI School, Southampton. Four recent Oxford buildings received funds from Abraham's trusts:
- the EP Abraham research building (completed in 2001, on South Parks Road)
- Lincoln College's EPA Science Centre (an accommodation and conferencing complex completed in 2005, on Museum Road),
- Linacre College's Edward & Asbjörg Abraham Building (completed in 1995)
- The Oxford Molecular Pathology Institute, completed in 2011, is also largely funded by proceeds from Abrahams patents.
Funding from these trusts have also helped to establish two scholarship programmes for doctoral students at the University of Oxford (the Oxford-E P Abraham Research Fund Graduate Scholarship and the Oxford-EPA Cephalosporin Graduate Scholarship).
Abraham was the recipient of many awards over his lifetime:
- Fellow of the Royal Society in 1958
- CBE in 1973
- Royal Medal of the Royal Society (1973)
- Knight Bachelor in 1980
- Mullard Award of the Royal Society (1980)
- Scheele Award in 1975
- Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1983.
- Jones, D. S.; Jones, J. H. (2014). "Sir Edward Penley Abraham CBE. 10 June 1913 -- 9 May 1999". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 60: 5–22. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2014.0002.
- "Edward Abraham". oxforddnb.com. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- Walker, John (1969). Studies on naturally-occurring peptides (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.
- "Eccentric TV farmer". Herald Sun. 17 May 1999.
- National Archives: Papers of Edward Penley Abraham
- "Sir Edward Penley Abraham (1913–1999)". University of Oxford. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- Abraham, E. P.; Robinson, R. (1937). "Crystallization of Lysozyme". Nature. 140 (3531): 24. doi:10.1038/140024a0.
- Blake, C. C. F.; Fenn, R. H.; North, A. C. T.; Phillips, D. C.; Poljak, R. J. (22 December 1962). "Structure of Lysozyme: A Fourier Map of the Electron Density at 6 |[angst]| Resolution obtained by X-ray Diffraction". Nature. 196 (4860): 1173–1176. doi:10.1038/1961173a0. PMID 13971463.
- Archives, The National. "The Discovery Service". discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- Abraham, E. P. (1940). "An Enzyme from Bacteria able to Destroy Penicillin". Nature. 146 (3713): 837. doi:10.1038/146837a0.
- Jones, David S.; Jones, John H. (1 December 2014). "Sir Edward Penley Abraham CBE. 10 June 1913 – 9 May 1999". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 60: 5–22. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2014.0002. ISSN 0080-4606.
- Chain, Ernest (20 March 1946). "The chemical structure of the penicillins" (PDF). Nobel Prize. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- Clarke, Hans T. (1949). Chemistry of Penicillin. Princeton University Press. pp. 310–366. ISBN 9781400874910.
- "Timeline | Sir William Dunn School of Pathology". University of Oxford. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- Newton, G. G. F.; Abraham, E. P. (26 March 1955). "Cephalosporin C, a New Antibiotic containing Sulphur and D-α-Aminoadipic Acid". Nature. 175 (4456): 548. doi:10.1038/175548a0. PMID 14370161.
- "Obituary: Sir Edward Abraham". The Independent. 13 May 1999. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- Abraham, Edward (1990). "Reflections on the Development of the Penicillins And Cephalosporins". Sartoniana. 3: 016–035.
- Abraham, E. P.; Newton, G. G. F. (1 May 1961). "The structure of cephalosporin C". Biochemical Journal. 79 (2): 377–393. doi:10.1042/bj0790377. ISSN 0264-6021. PMC 1205850. PMID 13681080.
- Hodgkin, Dorothy Crowfoot; Maslen, E. N. (1 May 1961). "The X-ray analysis of the structure of cephalosporin C". Biochemical Journal. 79 (2): 393–402. doi:10.1042/bj0790393. ISSN 0264-6021. PMC 1205851. PMID 13714852.
- Loder, Bronwen; Newton, G. G. F.; Abraham, E. P. (1 May 1961). "The cephalosporin C nucleus (7-aminocephalosporanic acid) and some of its derivatives". Biochemical Journal. 79 (2): 408–416. doi:10.1042/bj0790408. ISSN 0264-6021. PMC 1205853. PMID 13763020.
- Hale, C. W.; Newton, G. G. F.; Abraham, E. P. (1 May 1961). "Derivatives of cephalosporin C formed with certain heterocyclic tertiary bases. The cephalosporin CA family". Biochemical Journal. 79 (2): 403–408. doi:10.1042/bj0790403. ISSN 0264-6021. PMC 1205852. PMID 13710694.
- Jones, David S. and Jones, John H. (2014). "SIR EDWARD PENLEY ABRAHAM CBE 10 June 1913 — 9 May 1999". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. Royal Society. 60: 5–22. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2014.0002.
- Saxon, Wolfgang (13 May 1999). "E. P. Abraham, 85, Biochemist Who Helped Develop Antibiotics". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- "Obituary of Sir Edward Abraham Biochemist who developed new antibiotics and gave 30 million pounds of the profits to Oxford University". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Group Limited. 12 May 1999.
- "Oxford Preservation Trust | Oxford's own national trust". www.oxfordpreservation.org.uk. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- Charity Commission. Edward Penley Abraham Research Fund, registered charity no. 309659.
- Charity Commission. The E P A Cephalosporin Fund, registered charity no. 309698.
- "Charity Details". beta.charitycommission.gov.uk. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- "Opening of EPA Building | Sir William Dunn School of Pathology". University of Oxford. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- "Lincoln College Annexe (EPA Centre)". Oxford Rooms.
- "Named Areas of College | Linacre College". University of Oxford. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- "Penicillin: the Oxford story | University of Oxford". University of Oxford. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 20 March 2011.