News (from Edinburgh Research and Innovation)


Licensed vaccine creates a major legacy for the University

  • 30 July 2002
Licensed vaccine creates a major legacy for the University

When Professor Ken Murray licensed his pioneering Hepatitis B vaccine to a US biotechnology company in the 1980s, no-one could have predicted the global impact of his discovery or the contribution that the royalty income would make to future education and research at the University.

Professor Ken Murray is one of the most eminent scientists in Scotland. He was one of the pioneers in the early development of methods for DNA sequencing, but is renowned for developing the first genetically engineered vaccine against Hepatitis B in the early 1980s.

Professor Murray was appointed to the University of Edinburgh in 1967, to an academic position in what was then the only Department of Molecular Biology in the UK, under the direction of Professor Michael Swann (who later became Principal of the University). Through his work he developed the first sub-unit vaccine against viral hepatitis B - one of the earliest and most important practical applications of molecular biology.

At a time when there was no means whereby the vaccine could be produced in the laboratory, Professor Murray's cloning technology provided the way forward. First, a tool for reliably diagnosing those infected by the virus, and then a vaccine to combat the infection, were created and - significantly - patented. This technology was licensed to Biogen, Inc., a US biotechnology company that Professor Murray co-founded with fellow biologists from Europe and the United States.

When it became clear that the royalty earnings from the Hepatitis B vaccine would be substantial, Professor Murray donated his share of the commercial income to the Darwin Trust, a charity that he established in 1983 to support education and research in natural science. Not only is Professor Murray an exceptional scientist - he is also a true modern day philanthropist.

Hepatitis B is one of the world's most serious and widespread chronic diseases. These innovations radically improved the existing virus-based vaccine, and undoubtedly saved countless lives from cross contamination - this had a huge impact on Hepatitis worldwide. The global hepatitis B vaccine market now exceeds $1 billion dollars annually and is expected to continue to grow as more countries adopt World Health Organization recommendations for the vaccination of newborns, teenagers, healthcare workers and other 'at-risk' populations. 


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