1 June 2018

Blue plaques commemorate Oxford antibiotic breakthroughs

This week blue plaques were installed at two University buildings to commemorate the vital role people working there played in bringing antibiotics out of the laboratory and into general use – one of the most important breakthroughs in the history of medicine.

 Dunn School blue plaqueThe Sir William Dunn School of Pathology and the Outpatients building at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter both had new plaques unveiled in ceremonies on Tuesday – the hundredth such commemoration under the Oxfordshire Blue Plaques scheme.

 Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 at a London hospital, but University of Oxford scientists helped turn it into a viable drug that could be mass-produced and prescribed to patients suffering from serious bacterial infections.

This allowed previously deadly illnesses to be quickly dealt with, and may well have saved hundreds of millions of lives in the decades since.

 A team of scientists led by Howard Florey, Ernst Chain and Norman Heatley  isolated and purified penicillin to create a reliable drug at the Dunn School in the late 1930s and early 1940s. They then worked alongside a young doctor, Charles Fletcher, to carry out clinical trials at the Radcliffe Infirmary, which has now become the home of the University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences after major renovations that were completed in 2016. Florey and Chain were later awarded the Nobel Prize alongside Fleming.