Lincoln College

Sir Edward Penley Abraham (1913-1999)

Honorary Fellow of Lincoln College

Born in Southampton in June 1913, Sir Edward attended the King Edward VI School before achieving a First in Chemistry at The Queen's College, Oxford. A keen research scientist, he went on to take a doctorate in 1938. He studied for a time in the Dyson Perrins laboratory, Oxford and later took up a position at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology.

Sir Edward made significant contributions to Chemistry, Biology and most notably medicine with his work on antibiotics. He was part of a research team led by Professor H.W 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.

Following this, working alongside Dr Guy Newton, he undertook research on a sample of cephalosporin that had been isolated from seawater near a sewage outlet in Sardinia and donated to Florey. Sir Edward was particularly involved in isolating and purifying Cephalosporin C from the sample. It was found that the Cephalosporins were able to destroy penicillin-resistant bacteria. During the post war years he was able to develop this important group of molecules into antibiotics, which could be commercially produced for clinical use. Sold as Ceporin, Glaxo manufactured a product in 1964 to be used amongst other things in the fight against diphtheria and typhoid fever.

A brilliant scholar, Sir Edward had a great interest in education and through the success of his scientific work he was able to become a great benefactor. Unlike Florey, he was able to patent his cephalosporin and the money generated through royalties was used to form the Edward Abraham Fund. This gave rise to the Cephalosporin Trust from which Lincoln College has benefited. Several junior research fellowships have been made possible by his generosity. The Fund has also financed the Edward Abraham Building that was completed in autumn 2000. This has provided new laboratory facilities for further biomedical research focussing on immunity and infection that Sir Edward was so passionate about.

Sir Edward was a distinguished scientist whose work was recognised by many. He published three books and many original papers in journals on his biomedical/biochemical research. In 1958 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society. Several Oxford Colleges have bestowed upon him honorary Fellowships and after being appointed CBE in 1973, he was knighted by the Queen in 1980. He died on 8th May 1999, aged 85.

© Caroline Iddon, 2002