Peter Dunnill, 1938-2009

August 27, 2009

Peter Dunnill, a leading biochemist who contributed to the national debate on tackling swine flu right up until the end of his life, has died.

He was born in Harrow on 20 May 1938 and studied at Willesden Technical College before moving to University College London to read chemistry.

He worked at Sir John Cass College and then the Royal Institution, while also studying there for a PhD on protein crystallography under Sir Lawrence Bragg.

In 1964 Professor Dunnill obtained his first formal academic post as a lecturer in physical methods in UCL's Department of Biology.

He was to remain at the same institution for the rest of his career, shifting across to a lectureship in biochemical engineering in 1969, followed by a promotion to reader a decade later, and then professor in 1984.

A prolific researcher who produced more than 200 publications, Professor Dunnill made important contributions to the study of proteins as therapeutic agents, enzymes as catalysts, stem-cell regenerative therapy and the production of semi-synthetic penicillins. He also had a deep understanding of the whole process of taking newly discovered drugs from the laboratory through to production and distribution.

The creation of what became the Advanced Centre for Biomechanical Engineering at UCL in 1991 provided a facility where he was able to establish a model for the development of pharmaceutical products that was widely adopted by researchers in industry.

An adviser to several government departments, Professor Dunnill was appointed OBE for services to biochemical engineering in 1999.

His final days saw him giving regular briefings to the press - and firing off emails to the UK's Chief Scientific Officer - in an attempt to influence policy on vaccination and possible flu pandemics.

Nigel Titchener-Hooker, head of the Department of Biochemical Engineering at UCL, remembers a scientist with "a vision of how biochemists could solve global problems", who was also "a very powerful strategic thinker, always reflecting on the problems industry was likely to face in ten to 20 years' time".

"He was very good at encouraging and promoting staff and never tried to take credit for himself. Though he had learned how to cope with massively high levels of pain (after spinal damage as a result of contracting TB as a teenager) and conducted a lot of meetings lying down, he never wallowed in self-pity and was concerned with even the minor ailments of others."

Professor Dunnill died on 10 August 2009 and is survived by his wife, Pat.

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