Edward Abraham

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This article is about the biochemist. For the U.S. Senator from Michigan, see Spencer Abraham.
Sir Edward Abraham
Born Edward Penley Abraham
(1913-06-10)10 June 1913
Shirley, Southampton
Died 8 May 1999(1999-05-08) (aged 85)
Institutions University of Oxford
Alma mater The Queen's College, Oxford
Doctoral students Chi-Pui Pang[1]
Notable awards
Royal Medal (1973)

Sir Edward Penley Abraham, CBE, FRS[2] (10 June 1913 – 8 May 1999) was an English biochemist instrumental in the development of penicillin.[3][4]


Abraham was born in Shirley, Southampton, and attended King Edward VI School, Southampton, before achieving a First in Chemistry at The Queen's College, Oxford.

After completing his DPhil at the University of Oxford, Abraham took up a position at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology.

He became part of a research team led by Professor Howard Florey 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. 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. He was a Fellow of Lincoln until his retirement in 1980.

He died in May 1999, in Oxford, following a stroke. He was survived by his wife, Asbjörg.[5]

Sir Edward and Lady Abraham lived at Badgers Wood, Bedwells Heath, Boars Hill, where part of the land, Abraham Wood is now managed by the Oxford Preservation Trust.[6]


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[7] and the E P A Cephalosporin Fund.[8] 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. Three recent Oxford buildings — the Edward Abraham research building (on South Parks Road), the Lincoln EPA Science Centre (on Museum Road),[9] and Linacre College's Edward & Asbjörg Abraham Building (on St Cross Road)[10] — are named after him.


Abraham was the recipient of many awards over his lifetime, including a CBE in 1973 and a knighthood in 1980. He was given the Scheele Award in 1975 and was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1983.[11] He was elected to the fellowship of the Royal Society in 1958.[2]


  1. ^ http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk
  2. ^ a b c 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. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2014.0002. 
  3. ^ "Eccentric TV farmer". Herald Sun. News Limited. 1999-05-17. 
  4. ^ National Archives: Papers of Edward Penley Abraham
  5. ^ "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. 1999-05-12. 
  6. ^ "Abraham Wood". Oxford Preservation Trust. 
  7. ^ Charity Commission. Edward Penley Abraham Research Fund, registered charity no. 309659. 
  8. ^ Charity Commission. The E P A Cephalosporin Fund, registered charity no. 309698. 
  9. ^ "Lincoln College Annexe (EPA Centre)". Oxford Rooms. 
  10. ^ "Named areas of college". Linacre College. 
  11. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 20 March 2011.