Guy Newton

Nominated by: Christoph Tang

Major Contribution to Pathology: Guy Newton was an unsung hero in the Dunn School team that developed beta lactam antibiotics and demonstrated their clinical efficacy. The purification of betalactamase resistant Cephalosporin C and subsequent structure determination and development of chemical modification protocols lead to the development of ‘third generation’ antibiotics such as Ceftriaxone - an antibiotic used in clinical medicine to this day.

The names Florey, Chain, and Abraham will always be associated with the achievements of Medicine in Oxford in the characterisation and administration of antibiotics and the countless lives this has saved. Several unsung heroes made profound contributions to the transformative work that took place at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology in the 1940s and 1950s. These include Norman Heatley (a master craftsman and problem solver who was involved in the purification of penicillin) and Guy Newton, who along with Abraham identified the first cephalosporins. These antibiotics are analogues of penicillin and the most frequently prescribed class of antibiotic in the world with a global annual market of over £10 billion.

Guy Newton was born in 1919 and his studies in Natural Sciences and interest in rowing at Cambridge were interrupted by the Second World War. Although chemistry was a reserved occupation, Guy signed up for the army and was posted in India and throughout the Middle East, and served with distinction in northern Italy winning a Military Cross. After the war, he moved to Oxford having obtained Third Class Honours in Cambridge, proving there is always scope for late developers. Over the next 20 years, he published more than 50 papers with Abraham, most notably on cephasporin, which was isolated from a fungus obtained near a sewage outfall in Sardinia by Giuseppe Brotzu.

Recognition of his contribution to antibiotic discovery and development would have been much greater, but for his untimely death at the age of 50 on New Year’s day from a heart attack while cutting trees down in his garden on Shotover Hill.

Further reading

The life and work of Guy Newton (1919-1969)

John Jones

Journal of Peptide Science (2008) 14: 545-555


The Mold in Dr Florey’s Coat

Eric Lax

Abacus/Owl Books ISBN 0349117683

© Prof. Christoph Tang, University of Oxford, August 2012