Obituary for Professor Iain Francis Harvey Purchase (1937-2016)


It is with sadness that we report that Professor Iain Purchase passed away on Wednesday June 8th.

Iain was an eminent toxicologist, scientist and ethicist, but also an accomplished manager, an inspiring leader, and a man of great charm and huge personal and professional integrity. All of those who had the good fortune to work for or with Iain will have benefited from the experience.

There is no doubt that Iain did as much as anyone, and much more than most, in promoting the science and application of toxicology. He was also an early and passionate advocate of animal welfare and for the responsible use of animals in research, and was instrumental in the development of in vitro toxicology. His legacy is substantial and lasting.

Iain Purchase was born in Livingstone, Rhodesia, his father Harvey Purchase, was a Veterinary Officer in the British Colonial Service and worked in several African countries. His father was interested particularly in the control of Rinderpest (Cattle Plague). Iain followed in the family tradition, (his elder brother Harvey Graham was also a veterinarian), and trained in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, graduating in 1959. Subsequently he received his PhD from the School of Veterinary Medicine at University of Cambridge in 1964.

At Cambridge Iain’s research focussed on the use of anaesthetics in veterinary medicine, with his second paper being single author publication in Nature on the “Estimation of Halothane tensions in blood by gas chromatography”. On his return to South Africa Iain joined the Division of Toxicology, National  Nutritional Research Institute in Pretoria, where he started working with mycotoxins, including aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, sterigimatocystin and others studying their toxicity and potential carcinogenicity. He published many important papers in this area.

In 1970 Iain was appointed Director of the National Research Institute for Nutritional Diseases. Of interest during this period is his paper published in 1970 entitled “The Ethics of Animal Experimentation”; a subject that was a major interest for the remainder of his career.

In 1972 Iain left South Africa and took a position as Head of Experimental Pathology at the ICI Central Toxicology Laboratory at Alderley Park, Cheshire in the UK. He was soon involved with issues of the day such as the carcinogenicity of vinyl chloride in company workers.

However, of greatest impact was the research programme he led that identified more ethical, quicker, cheaper methods of identifying chemicals that cause cancer. In this role he recruited a strong multidisciplinary team around him with experts in structure-activity relationships, mutagenicity, carcinogenicity and cell biology. Their findings were widely published, including another Nature paper in 1976 on “Evaluation of Six Short-term Tests for Detecting Organic Chemical Carcinogens and Recommendations for Their Use”.

Iain is best remembered for his association with the (ICI/Zeneca/ AstraZeneca/Syngenta) Central Toxicology Laboratory (CTL). He was appointed Deputy Director in 1979 and was Director from 1981 to 1998. In that position Iain led CTL to prominence and international recognition as the preeminent industrial toxicology research laboratory. CTL proved a fertile scientific environment, with a broad-based and very productive research portfolio, and the laboratory was the source of some truly seminal discoveries in toxicology. Moreover, under Iain’s guidance a generation of talented toxicologists flourished, and many of those who benefited from working under Iain’s mentorship went on to forge successful independent careers.

Iain himself made important contributions to the science of toxicology, his main research interests being in the hazard and risk assessment of chemical carcinogens. In parallel, Iain played a pioneering role in promoting the development of in vitro toxicology and application of 3Rs principles (Reduction, Refinement and Replacement) to the toxicological sciences. He was a founding editor of the journal Toxicology in Vitro when it was launched in 1987, and was the leading editor until 1994. Iain was also one of the founders of the Practical In Vitro Toxicology conference series. In 1993 Iain received, on behalf of CTL, the Johns Hopkins CAAT Recognition Award for ‘the development of mechanistically-based alternative in vitro and in vivo toxicological methods and their application to improve human hazard assessment, to improve early chemical selection and to refine regulatory protocols’.

Iain did much to support the development of toxicology and toxicologists both nationally and internationally. He was President of the British Toxicology Society (BTS) from 1990-1992, and President of the International Union of Toxicology (IUTOX) from 1995-1998. Iain served with great distinction on a variety of scientific advisory and expert committees, and his achievements were recognised by many prestigious awards. In 2004 he received the IUTOX Merit Award; the highest honour conferred by the Society, and in the same year he was awarded the Paton Prize by the BTS. In 1998 he was became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to toxicology in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List and in that year was awarded La Medaille de la Ville de Paris.

Iain retired from Syngenta in 1998 and took up a position as visiting Professor at Manchester University School of Biological Sciences and Institute of Medicine, Law and Bioethics where he pursued his interest in the attitude of research workers in the UK to animals, including attitudes to ethics, animal welfare and training until 2006.  In 2003 he became a Non-Executive Director of Eastern Cheshire Primary Care National Health Service (NHS) Trust, and Chair of the Finance and Performance Committee. In 2006 the Trust expanded to include North and East Cheshire of which he became Vice-Chair and chaired 2 sub-committees. His last appointment was as a Non-Executive Director of NHS Trust Cheshire, Wirral and Warrington, the commissioning body for 1,000,000 patients with a budget of nearly £3 billion, where he was a member of the Audit Committee.

In his retirement Iain spent much time with his grandchildren and was frequently spotted in the local park with them. When they were older you would find him bike riding, attending their concerts both at school and the Halle, or watching cricket or football at Manchester United. He also enjoyed the lunchtime get together at a local pub with former Syngenta employees and meeting up at local coffee shops for a social chat. Iain was also a member and elder at Wilmslow United Reformed Church.

Iain developed Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinaemia a rare type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that was kept under control for several years with frequent visits to the Christie Hospital in Manchester, but in the end became uncontrollable.

He leaves behind his wife Sheila, 4 children and 9 grandchildren.

Ted Lock and Ian Kimber