Howard Walter Florey Biography (1898-1968)


Born in Adelaide, Australia, Florey became a leading researcher of the disease process. With colleague Ernst Chain, he isolated penicillin, making possible its wide production and use in treating bacterial diseases.

The son of a boot maker, Florey showed no interest in learning the family business. Instead, his natural curiosity and scholastic ability led him to pursue medical research. Florey attended the University of Adelaide, and after earning his medical degree in 1921, he received a Rhodes Scholarship to study atOxford University. He also studied at Cambridge University and in the UnitedStates as a Rockefeller Foundation traveling fellow before returning to Oxford to earn his Ph.D. in pathology and biochemistry.

Florey had been interested in antibacterial agents for years, and in 1930 hebegan studying a natural antibacterial substance called lysozyme which had been discovered by Alexander Fleming almost a decade earlier. Florey was the first to purify it and determine how it acted. This line of study was to lead to his best-known achievement.

After four years as professor at the University of Sheffield, Florey was appointed professor of pathology at Oxford in 1935. He consulted chemist Frederick Gowland Hopkins regarding a suitable person to lead the biochemistry work at Oxford. Hopkins recommended Chain. Beginning in 1938, Florey and Chain began to study antibacterial agents found in bacteria and molds. They decided first to study penicillin, described (but never isolated) by Fleming almost a decade earlier. By 1941, the two had produced concentrated penicillin and shownthat it could successfully treat bacterial infections in laboratory animalswithout toxic effects. Florey and Chain began clinical trials on nine humans,all with dramatically successful results. The mass bloodshed of World War IIcreated a desperate need for medications that could bring relief to thousands of victims of injury and sickness, so efforts to produce penicillin in large quantities were begun. Florey went to the United States to encourage production of the drug. He even traveled to battlefields to investigate the effectiveness of penicillin on wounded soldiers. Soon the drug was in common use.

After the war, Florey continued antibiotic research and later concentrated onexperimental pathology. He also contributed research on the biology of mucussecretions, electron microscopy, and circulatory and pulmonary illnesses. Florey remained at Oxford as a professor of pathology until 1962, when he became provost of Queen's College, Oxford, and served as president of the Royal Society from 1960 to 1965. For his work with penicillin, Florey shared the 1945Nobel Prize in Medicine with Fleming and Chain. Florey was knighted in 1944and in 1965 was named Baron Florey of Adelaide.

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