Tributes - Professor Fred Brown OBE FRSClick here for Obituary in the Independent by John Beale
March 6 2004
Regular readers of this website will join us in our sadness at the death of Fred Brown OBE FRS. He, more than anyone else, alerted us to the insanity of the FMD policies and offered his help and expertise to the government. The government thought their "Science Committee" knew better. We remember Professor Brown's humour and his straightforwardness. He was a humane and brilliant scientist and a very principled man. His words to me in London after he had talked to the chair of the EFRA committee about vaccination and rapid diagnosis: "As time goes on scientists know more and more about less and less while the politicians know less and less about bugger all..."
Here he is explaining in his modest voice that vaccination works. As true in 2001 as it is now. "It's about economics not about disease control"
The Life of Fred Brown
An era in the history of virology ended Friday last, February 20, 2004, with the untimely death of Fred Brown. Foot and mouth disease virus – the cause of the world’s most dangerous animal infection and the first virus of animals to be discovered - was identified in 1896. And for half of history since that discovery, Fred Brown was a leading researcher of this and other viruses. He will be remembered as a key player in four critical areas of foot and mouth science: the introduction of safe and effective vaccine adjuvants; molecular virology; the discovery of the scientific basis to discriminate vaccinated animals from those that had previously been infected; and the development of rapid, on-farm tests that have set a new benchmark for diagnosis in the 21st Century. The latter two discoveries were made by ARS at Plum Island.
Trained as a chemist, Fred entered virology in the late 1940s, at a time when empirical observations depending on the approaches of 19th Century microbiologists, physicians and veterinarians were being discarded in favor of chemical and later biochemical explanations of biological events. Vaccines were still made by Louis Pasteur’s method of inactivating viruses with formaldehyde. Fred showed that on physical-chemical grounds alone formaldehyde could not reliably kill viruses like foot and mouth and polio (as Jonas Salk had found when children at the Cleveland Clinic accidentally caught polio in early trials of his formalin-treated vaccine). He was there at the beginning of modern virology, with Chris Andrewes and others at the forefront of those trying to determine the composition of viruses and the roles of constituent proteins and nucleic acids. This cutting edge science segued into molecular biology and molecular genomics over the next two decades. In the late 1970s, two teams were competing to unravel foot and mouth through “genetic engineering”: Fred’s team at Pirbright in England and that led by Howard Bachrach at Plum Island. The science done at this time put Howard in the National Academy of Sciences (and the ARS Hall of Fame) and Fred into the Royal Society (the British equivalent). And the work was on the front cover of “Science”.
Fred was utterly dedicated to science in a rare way. Faced with compulsory retirement as a government scientist at the age of 60, Fred left Pirbright at 58 to head the Virology Division of Wellcome Biotechnology Inc., where he continued his foot and mouth research. Faced with compulsory retirement at 65 from Wellcome, I recruited him to Plum Island in 1990. As a non-citizen, he could not be hired by ARS and so Yale University established a professorial position for him to continue his work on foot and mouth in ARS. With Yale we developed the differential test. Fred was always active: working in the lab himself, writing a paper or a review, editing someone else’s paper on behalf of a journal, or leading the Vaccine Conference at Cold Spring Harbor. He had no time for television or interest in what it showed. His scientific interests were Catholic: he would be as likely to be reading a biography of a mathematical prodigy as a paper on the “Big Bang” by his friend Fred Hoyle. And he could articulate the scientific theories of both – and others – with enthusiasm and accomplishment.
Fred was a plain and straightforward man – he was Fred, not Frederick. His father was a French polisher and he was born in a mill town about 20 miles from where I was in Lancashire, England. He was very proud of attending the Burnley Grammar School (in Britain, when people ask which school you went to they mean the High School, not college) and of playing competitively on its cricket team – against my old school as it happens. He started out in humble origins and achieved great success through his own intellect, inquisitiveness and competence, not through connections or by attending a prestigious university (at that time). Yet he remained quintessentially English. Each year, the Queen awards various types of medal to the Great and the Good on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. No Englishman would ever admit to wanting one, acknowledge that its award was anything other than inconsequential, or agree to accept one other than to please someone else - a parent, spouse or child. At the same time, very few ever refuse. And so it was with Fred. A couple of years ago, he confided to me that he was about to journey to Buckingham Palace to receive a medal for his work on the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Science Advisory Committee – an event that required the wearing of a top hat and morning suit. This is the uniform of those at the opposite end of the social spectrum from Burnley French polishers. I urged him to wear this regalia and the decoration on the boat to Plum Island. I also promised never to reveal this event to ARS or to our mutual friends – a promise I am breaking today. Now that Mick Jagger has made this same journey, it’s time to let Fred’s secret out.
Fifteen years ago, talking to his wife Audrey in the magnificent gardens of their lovely home in Surrey, England, she said to me: “There’ll be no retirement in this house. He wants to work until the end.” And that is how it was. When Fred did not wake up last Friday morning, I know there would have been a scientific tome on the night-table and likely a half-edited manuscript next to his fountain pen. It will be a long time before we see his like again and we were privileged in ARS to know him as a colleague at all, let alone for so long.
I first met Fred over 20 years ago, at a dinner table in Cold Spring Harbor. Both being English, we could not speak to each other until someone else introduced us unless there was an opportunity for a conversation to spark naturally. The opportunity arose when I was telling a colleague about a job offer from a prominent British scientist. Fred leaned over to offer a few words of comment on that luminary, none of which I can repeat here – and this began our long friendship....... our friend, colleague and inspiration. I have relayed our deepest sympathies to Audrey and to his family.
February 25, 2004
From Christopher Booker
I have only just read about Fred Brown's departure on warmwell, and like so many others I am shattered and saddened. He was such a beacon of light in those dark days of 2001, and I would echo everything all your other correspondents have said.
I remember ringing him in America in the early days of the crisis, rather nervously to ask him whether it was true that the UK government was getting it all hopelessly wrong about vaccination (nervous only in case he said that he could not possibly comment publicly as a civil servant). Of course he was immediately charming, gentle, authoritative - and as outspoken as I could have wanted - and it was the first of quite a few conversations over the months that were to follow, when like so many others I came to hold him not just in total respect but in true affection.
I first met him on that crazy day in London when he and Simon Barteling made such a powerful contribution at the press conference organised by Alicia Eykyn, and they then went over to the House of Lords to be treated with condescension by a lot of pygmy politicoes. Like you, I met him again at that splendid conference in Bristol in September, attended by so many of the courageous 'players' in the foot and mouth tragedy.
I treasure the memory of our various delightfully discursive conversations, and one little anecdote in particular is worth recording for any warmwellians who are lovers of cricket. Fred was a very capable cricketer in his youth, a spin bowler (what a different idea of spin he had from Alastair Campbell). In 1944 when, as a Lancastrian, he was playing in the Yorkshire League, his team played Pudsey, and was both alarmed and delighted to see that giant among batsmen Len Hutton coming to the wicket (Hutton was in the army at the time, but on leave, and despite being the then-record holder for the highest ever test innings, turned out for his old club). Fred was bowling and 'read' the great man with typical cunning. The first ball Hutton pushed respectfully to mid-on, the second (if I remember the story correctly) beat him and with the third, a leg break, Fred bowled the great man round his legs. It was his proudest cricketing moment. But of course it pales into significance alongside his shining display of moral courage and integrity in the nightmare days of 2001.
We are honoured to have met him.
From Mary Marshall
For myself, Fred's combination of humanity and knowledge and his determination to communicate this knowledge were an inspiration. He will be remembered for his voice of compassion, reason and common sense.
I am so sad about the death of Professor Fred Brown and wished to send my warm thoughts about him. He was a great inspiration and down to earth as they come. Matthew and I are very glad and proud that we managed to meet him in Bristol in 2001. I shall always treasure the memory. Professor Fred was the expert for the Brecon Beacons case and gave his time and expertise so generously. He had endless patience in answering all my questions faxed back and forth over the months. If only the government and also the courts had paid attention to what he was saying. His work must not be in vain. He was a lovely man and I shall miss him being there. God Bless him.
Janet Hughes and family
From Chris Stockdale
What a loss, what a decent man. Fred Brown's willingness to take phone calls from lay members of the public such as myself was remarkable, as was the vigour and forthrightness with which he set about the task in hand. I will always treasure the closing moments of the Lyons Conference, when, in the eyes of the world FMD community, Fred, himself essentially the guest of honour, left the stage to come and sit with the three members of the FMD Forum present, in a gesture which unmistakably conveyed far more than words could tell. May God Bless him for that, and all the rest he did for us and the livestock we care for.
How saddened I was to hear that Fred (Brown) had died.
In those insane and desperate days, weeks and months of 2001 few of us were listened to. Many of us were bull-dozered out of the way.
We desperately turned for help; to Fred. But even he was ignored! Result, 11 million animals killed illegally, 88% healthy! I remember asking Alicia to ask Fred to come to Cumbria to talk. The only NFU representative walked out half way through the meeting (that said it all!), but I spoke quietly to Fred afterwards. Not once did this highly intellectual man talk down to me but explained the things I needed to know clearly and concisely. For someone to earn my total respect can be a lengthy process, if at all. Fred achieved this in minutes!
A great man, sadly missed!
Just look at what we are left with!
"My day has just stopped. I logged on to Warmwell and there was the tragic and sad news about Fred. I am not an over emotional person - and have always tried to deal with the awfulness of FMD in a clinical and dispassionate way - but on hearing about Fred I filled up. Fred shone out as a beacon of humanity, sense and integrity. His quiet, direct and straightforward approach to what we faced in 2001 stood head and shoulders above the chaos and panic which engulfed those frantically ordering more and more killing in 2001.
How desperately sad that for reasons beyond science he was not listened to. Fred had that quality of the truly great; he was as happy to speak and explain things to those who knew nothing about FMD - as he was to converse with his peers and scientific associates. His knowledge was freely and willingly imparted to any who sought it. Perhaps this is why, that despite his unequalled knowledge, what he was advocating went ignored. It seemed that those with careers to further, reputations to build and a with pursuance of power and influence which was shocking to behold took centre stage. What hope for mild mannered and unassuming Fred, who relied on knowledge and science to advance his argument against the thrusting arrogance of those with little knowledge - but big ideas of self agrandissement.
But it is not only Fred's knowledge and wisdom we mourn - it is the loss of a great scientist whose modesty, principle and integrity was humbling in its greatness. How rare such qualities today - and how much poorer we are for that..
There have not been many happy memories about 2001, but one of the greatest must be that it gave me the opportunity to hear, meet and speak to Fred. Despite all the grand words above - he was the most approachable and easy going person you could ever hope to meet. His sense of fun and dry humour belied the fact that he must have been around his 80's - but it was like being in the company of a rather mischievous school boy. Recounting highly amusing stories about his growing up in Lancashire and antics with Lancashire Cricket Club - my over-riding memory (and one which I thank Alicia Eykyn for arranging) was the sight of Fred, Paul Sutmoller and Simon Barteling after the Bristol Conference in 2001 downing great pints in the pub over the road from Bristol University - and including us all in their conversation and discussions as if we had known them for years.
What an honour, what a privilege, what an inspiration - and what a loss. What a guiding light he has been - and what an inspiration he still is. I am just immensely grateful to have met him and to have learnt so much, not only about FMD - but about life."
Janet Bayley - member of National Foot & Mouth Group
I was so saddened to read about poor Fred. A voice of reason and compassion gone forever, only his golden words left behind, never to be tarnished by politics.
As Nick said, saddened to my boots at such mournful news. Fred was a diamond amongst government dross. How the honest scientists will miss him - how we all will miss him.
Some lucky people like Nick, have had the pleasure of meeting him and tapping his expertise; now we shall just have his words on paper to help us along.
'I was thinking about Fred today, and what I would say about him, and then I realised. He is what was meant by the poem, If the poem by Rudyard Kipling.
I would only change one line if I could be SO bold and that would be the last..
And--which is more--you'll be Fred Brown, my son!
If you can keep your head when all about youFred was and will always be an inspiration to me on how I should aim to lead my life. He was just quite simply a wonderful man.
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!
How I agree with everything that has been said about Fred Brown and how sad I feel that he is no longer with us!
Jon is right - Kipling's "If" applies so well to Fred (I always felt that the spirit of it applied so well to my beloved Mum as well).
I would like to say 'if' as well, but with an 'only' after it - if only there were some men of Fred's calibre to make decisions about the people and the animals of this country, instead of the sad, manipulative and dishonest bunch who are there to lead us.
Rest in peace, Fred.
Dr. Fred Brown, 79, Pioneer in Fighting Foot-and-Mouth, DiesBy JEREMY PEARCE in the New York Times
Published: March 8, 2004
r. Fred Brown, a virologist who studied foot-and-mouth disease in cattle and later led in the development of early vaccines and methods to test for the disease, died on Feb. 20 in his home in Guildford, England. He was 79.
The death was confirmed by Dr. Thomas G. Burrage, a colleague of Dr. Brown's from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, a federal research center off Long Island. He said he did not know the cause.
In five decades of research into foot-and-mouth disease, Dr. Brown helped to explain the molecular structure of the virus and to use the knowledge to prepare vaccines that protect livestock. The disease, which debilitates animals and is highly infectious, can be contracted by sheep, cattle, pigs, goats and deer, with serious implications for the meat and dairy industries.
In 2001, foot-and-mouth disease spread through farms in Britain, leading to quarantines, the mass slaughter of animals and agricultural damages amounting to £3 billion, or $4.4 billion in 2001 dollars, according to a government estimate. Dr. Brown's work has been applied to pen-side testing for diagnosis of the disease, for which there is no known cure. The last large-scale outbreak of foot-and-mouth in the United States occurred in the 1920's.
"All of Fred Brown's work has been important, but his pen-side tests could potentially revolutionize the detection of the disease," said Dr. Daniel Rock, a virologist at the Plum Island center, where Dr. Brown had worked since 1990 while teaching at Yale's School of Public Health.
Dr. Brown also devised a method to distinguish between vaccinated animals and those that had been previously infected with the disease, a distinction not immediately clear in moving herds of cattle.
Earlier, he did experiments at the Animal Virus Research Institute's Pirbright laboratory in England, where he was deputy director, and he led the virology division of Wellcome Biotechnology Inc. He then left for the United States Department of Agriculture's labs on Plum Island. He was an adviser to the British government on mad cow disease.
Dr. Brown graduated with first-class honors in chemistry from Manchester University and earned master's and doctoral degrees there. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1981.
Dr. Brown is survived by his wife, Audrey, and their two sons. The couple lived in Old Saybrook, Conn., while he worked in the United States.
Professor Fred Brown(Filed: 10/03/2004)
Professor Fred Brown, who has died aged 79, was a molecular biologist specialising in virology, and a leading authority on foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).
During his 30 years at the Institute of Animal Health's Pirbright Laboratory in Surrey, Brown devoted much of his time to the study of FMD and other viruses, including rabies, and was an acknowledged international expert in the field.
His understanding of the structure and function of FMD led to the development of new vaccines and test kits. After his retirement, he continued his research at the US Department of Agriculture Plum Island Disease Center, where he was a visiting scientist from 1995.
In February 2001, when the most recent British outbreak of FMD was first diagnosed, Brown announced that it "would be crazy not to operate a programme of mass vaccination immediately".
Mass vaccination had been abandoned in western Europe in 1992, after defective vaccines had been thought to be the cause of outbreaks of the disease. But, Brown maintained, the new vaccines could not cause infections, and new testing could differentiate between vaccinated and infected animals.
Despite his attempts to persuade the authorities of the benefits of vaccination, to Brown's dismay the Government opted for a policy of mass slaughter, which he later described as the destruction of "innocent animals".
And although the culling of livestock on infected farms, and those located in a "contiguous cull" area, did eventually bring an end to the 2001 outbreak, Brown's supporters continue to maintain that vaccination and testing could have prevented the unnecessary slaughter of millions of animals.
After the 2001 outbreak, Brown was appointed to a Royal Society inquiry set up to learn lessons from it. But he remained disappointed that, when the disease had first been diagnosed, his advice had not been taken. The mass cull, he said in 2002, was "barbaric conduct" and "a disgrace to humanity".
Fred Brown was born on January 31 1925 at Burnley, Lancashire. He was educated at Burnley Grammar School, where he was captain of cricket and football. At Manchester University he took a First in Chemistry in 1944, followed by a PhD in 1948.
After a spell as a senior research assistant in the Christie Hospital, Manchester, in 1955 Brown joined the staff of the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Institute (today the Pirbright Laboratory).
There, working with several other scientists in the Department of Biochemisty, he pursued his interest in the structure and function of the constituent parts of micro-organisms, and in particular the genome and proteins of the foot-and-mouth disease virus particle.
During that time there were still frequent outbreaks of FMD across Britain, and evidence from epizootiological investigations indicated that many of them could be attributed to the import of meat and meat products from countries where the disease was constantly present, despite the use of foot-and-mouth disease vaccines.
The virus made contact with livestock - particularly pigs - in Britain through the swill feeding of waste food which had not been completely sterilised by heat treatment.
Also, in the 1950s and 1960s, during the course of vaccine campaigns to control the disease in several European countries, it became clear that in some outbreaks it was the vaccine which was responsible, due to the presence of small amounts of infective virus which had not been inactivated (killed) during the vaccine production process.
It became apparent, therefore, that if safer and more effective vaccines could be developed, and taken up in the countries from which meat products were imported, there would be fewer outbreaks of the disease.
At this point, Brown and his colleagues started to investigate the process of inactivation of the infectivity of virus particles by the action of formaldehyde during the production of vaccines. But they found that inactivation was not total, and the final product still contained a small number of infective particles.
During a search for alternative chemical inactivants, Brown discovered that one of the aziridine compounds (AEI) gave the desired result: a safe and effective vaccine. This was a major breakthrough, and aziridines are now used universally in foot-and-mouth disease vaccine production units.
When applied to the European situation, vaccination in combination with modern sanitary measures resulted in dramatic reductions in the number of annual outbreaks; and the occasional outbreak, when it occurred, could in many cases be attributed to livestock imported from eastern Europe. Brown's studies of structure and the molecular profiles of different strains have also proved invaluable in the tracing of viruses.
After retiring as deputy director of the Pirbright Laboratory in 1983, he joined the staff of Wellcome Biotechnology as head of the virology and development department, working on the analysis of the structural basis for effective immunisation against several viruses affecting humans.
In 1990 he was appointed Adjunct Professor in the School of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University, and in 1995 became a consultant to the US Department of Agriculture at Plum Island, New York.
Brown was associated with almost 400 scientific papers on various aspects of animal virology, and served on many scientific committees, including the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee.
He was appointed OBE in 1975, and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1981.
A robust Lancastrian, Brown could be plain speaking, even blunt when necessary. He was a keen cricketer and an inspiring, energetic and helpful friend and colleague.
After undergoing triple bypass surgery in New York, he returned to Britain earlier this year. He died in Surrey on February 20.
Fred Brown married, in 1948, Audrey Alice Doherty, whom he met at Manchester University. She and their two sons survive him.
Pioneering scientist in the war on foot-and-mouth
Wednesday March 10, 2004
Fred Brown, who has died aged 79, was a British virologist of international standing. He will be remembered best for his contributions to the study of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV). He was one of the pioneers of the application of biochemical, and what we now term molecular biological, approaches to investigations of this globally important pathogen.
Under his guidance and leadership from 1955 to 1983, the biochemistry department at the Animal Virus Research Institute (now the Institute for Animal Health), at Pirbright, Surrey, became a world-class institution for cutting-edge virus research. Although FMDV was its main focus, Fred's influence extended beyond this into general virology. In addition to his interest in fundamental studies, he always had an eye for the practical application of his work, especially in the development of improved and novel vaccines.
In 1983, Fred, together with members of his group, moved to Wellcome Biotech, initially to continue their FMDV research; in particular, to assess the potential of chemically synthesised vaccines. Following the closure of Wellcome Biotech, he went to the US department of agriculture research institute at Plum Island, New York, in 1995. There, he revived his research interests in FMDV, which he continued to work on until his return to Britain just weeks before his death. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1981.
Born in Burnley, Lancashire, and educated at the local grammar school, Fred was fiercely proud of his northern England origins and heritage. He studied chemistry at Manchester University, where he gained a first-class degree in 1945, and was awarded his PhD in 1948 for research into carbohydrate chemistry.
After a brief spell with Bristol University, working for the Fruit and Vegetable Preservation Station at Chipping Camden, he moved to the Hannah Dairy Research Institute, in Ayr, where he studied problems related to animal nutrition. From 1953 to 1955, he was at the Christie hospital in Manchester, before moving to Pirbright and the start of his illustrious career in virus research.
Of Fred's many achievements, one in particular illustrates both his scientific prowess and his dogged determination. His skilful political persuasion of the regulatory authorities that crystals of FMDV could be transported safely to the synchrotron radiation source at Daresbury, near Warrington, facilitated the X-ray diffrac tion studies that were critical for a major development in FMDV research: the determination of the atomic structure of the virus.
In addition to his role in virus research, Fred served on many national and international bodies. In particular, he was a member of the spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee that advised the government during the traumatic years of the BSE outbreak. He was awarded the OBE in 1999.
Fred had a major influence on British science and was a staunch supporter of the Society for General Micro- biology, of which he was made an honorary member in 1991. He was also a member of the society's council, and editor-in-chief for one of its journals, the Journal of General Virology (1975-80).
Fred always had strong views, and did not suffer fools lightly, particularly if resources and time were being wasted. However, he was highly supportive of young scientists; many of the leading figures in virology remember his kindness and generosity during the early stages of their careers. As chairman of the Royal Society biological education committee, he was a strong advocate of improved science teaching in schools.
Although he chose chemistry, and eventually virology, as a career, he had considered other possibilities. He was a passionate sportsman and, as a young man, had been offered a place in the Lancashire cricket team. He was also interested in history, especially the history of science. He once said that he would have read history at university if it had not been for the better opportunities of employment as a chemist.
Fred is survived by his wife, lifelong companion and friend Audrey, whom he married in 1948, and their sons Roger and Bill.
Professor Fred Brown
Searching for a better vaccine against foot and mouth disease
FRED BROWN was Britain’s outstanding animal virologist. Independent and outspoken, he was committed before the 2001 outbreak to developing new vaccines against foot-and-mouth disease, and critical of disease control procedures, emergency or otherwise, that did not include their use. After the 2001 outbreak — when he was dismayed by the initial delays of slaughter on suspect farms — he was a member of the Royal Society inquiry that recommended vaccination as a priority for the future, doubtless with his strong support.
Fred Brown was born in 1925 and educated at Burnley Grammar School and Manchester University, taking a first in chemistry in 1944. His doctorate was awarded in 1948 for research on plant polysaccharides, including starches.
Most of his career was spent at the Animal Virus Research Institute in Pirbright, which he joined in 1955 and where he was head of biochemistry from 1964 to 1983. In this time, studies of the foot-and-mouth virus progressed from investigations of its components and their immunological properties to molecular cloning of the virus genome and comprehensive description of the replication cycle. Brown led the institute’s research through a highly productive period, attracting many first-class collaborators.
He worked not only on foot-and-mouth but on other viruses that cause diseases clinically indistinguishable from it. His work on vesicular stomatitis virus and the closely related rabies virus showed that their surface molecules induce antibodies that neutralise virus infectivity. Along with Italian colleagues he showed that swine vesicular disease is caused by a virus closely related to the human virus Coxsackie B5, in studies that were among the first to apply molecular techniques to the characterisation and differentiation of virus isolates. For another pig disease he found the cause to be Nodamura virus and showed that its genome contained two rather than one RNA molecules, establishing yet another new virus family, the nodaviruses.
Having identified new viruses, and even two new virus families, it was not surprising that he became heavily involved in virus taxonomy. He was a member of the international committee on the taxonomy of viruses from 1968 to 1981 and then its president until 1987.
He was deputy director of the Animal Virus Research Institute from 1980 to 1983, when he was appointed head of virology research and development at Wellcome Biotechnology, Beckenham. There, in collaboration with X-ray crystallographers in Oxford, he determined the three-dimensional structure of the foot-and-mouth virus.
He extensively explored the possibility that synthetic peptides might be valuable as vaccines. He had shown that the 1981 outbreak of foot-and-mouth in Britain was due to the use as a vaccine of incompletely inactivated virus, and he strove to find an alternative. As a secondary objective he developed effective chemical procedures to make sure that the virus could be reliably and totally deactivated.
He spent the last 13 years of his career at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. Having no intention to retire he became a professor at Yale University and a consultant with the US Department of Agriculture in 1990 and retained both positions until this year.
A true scholar, he had a strong interest in education and chaired the Royal Society’s biological education committee, 1983-87. He was grateful to his own teachers, especially at grammar school, where he captained cricket and football teams. He went on to be a fast bowler for Burnley in the Lancashire League and his local team in Surrey.
He was generous almost to a fault in giving his time to the scientific community and its societies. He had an exceptional memory, an interest in the history of science, and an enormous capacity for work that made him an ideal editor of no fewer than nine scientific journals.
From 1979 he was chairman of the comparative virology programme run by the World Health Organisation and the UN. He was scientific secretary of the International Association of Biological Standardisation from 1980, and sat on the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, 1990-98. He was elected to the fellowship of the Royal Society in 1981 and appointed OBE in 1999.
He is survived by his wife Audrey, whom he married in 1948, and their two sons.
Fred Brown, virologist, was born on January 31, 1925. He died on February 20, 2004, aged 79.
Jon told me that Fred had died in his sleep. I am so sorry to hear it
not less because he worked so hard that everyone feared this would
happen because of his heart disease. How typical of him to decide not
to retire and try to live long but to continue working as hard as he
could at what he was so passionately interested in. He had a very clear
vision of what could be achieved with science as well as being
fascinated by it. He was so exceptional, and yet so straight forward
and self effacing. I have known some wonderful people in science, I am
inclined to believe that they are more frequent in science than in
medicine. Fred was really a marvellous man.
One of the most outstanding qualities he showed in the FMD epidemic of
2001 I thought was the courage to stand up to the establishment and
never stop explaining why they were wrong in what they did and point out
how things should be done. So many scientists might stand back
particularly after being rebuffed publicly by the powers that be and
rage unquietly in the wings at the stupidity and folly of refusing to
use vaccination and modern diagnostic techniques to combat an epidemic.
Fred never backed away or down. His high sense of integrity prevented itwhen he knew how FMD might have been managed differently. Those wonderfultools that science, Fred's work so outstanding in its contribution to their development,had given us were never used! What an anathema that we never appliedthem to FMD, would that we had such a good vaccine or such good moleculardiagnostics to use against bovine TB.