Lives of the fellows

Oswald Morton

b.5 February 1928 d.12 August 2009
MB BS Lond(1954) MRCS LRCP(1954) MRCGP(1963) Dip Pharm Med(1976) FFPM(1989) FRCP(2008)

Oswald ‘Ossie’ Morton made an outstanding contribution to pharmaceutical medicine as an independent consultant advising drug companies. He studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital in the early 1950s, later becoming a dermatology house physician. During his years in general practice he maintained broader interests, holding a clinical assistantship in dermatology at Southend General Hospital, as well as undertaking migraine research. It was his dissatisfaction with the monotony of routine general practice that led him in the 1960s to take a new direction, which would shape the remainder of his career: he entered the commercial world of the pharmaceutical industry, joining British Drug Houses as a medical adviser in 1963.

After a stint as medical director at Bristol Laboratories, he returned to British Drug Houses (later acquired by Glaxo), as world medical director and joint research director. There he invented inhaled corticosteroids using metered-dose inhalers, a product that made a significant contribution to the treatment of obstructive airways diseases. He was headhunted into the post of research director at Lloyds Pharmaceuticals in 1968, where he developed, among other products, timodine cream for the treatment of intertrigo. Reckitt and Colman Pharmaceuticals recruited him for what would be his final in-house position, before he embarked on a new journey in 1975 as a self-employed consultant pharmaceutical physician. His ensuing career as a consultant engaged him in advising several drug companies on product development, clinical trials, regulatory affairs, advertising and promotion, as well as carrying out staff training, liaising with practising clinicians and lecturing to doctors and pharmacists.

Although the subject-matter of his work ranged widely, Ossie’s longstanding interest in dermatology made him a natural choice as a consultant on sunscreen formulation and marketing, a product area with popular appeal that saw him frequently interviewed on radio and in the press. His talent for straightforward explanation of complex topics, which had no doubt been honed as a clinician, served him well on these occasions. Quoted by The Independent in May 2004 as ‘Tesco’s clinical dermatologist’, he explained memorably the difference between UVB and UVA rays: “broadly speaking, B is for burning and A is for ageing”. And he must be one of few pharmaceutical physicians to have a name-check in a celebrity memoir. In her 1994 book of beauty and lifestyle tips, My secrets (London, Boxtree), Joan Collins shares a secret that she learned from “Dr Oswald Morton, a doctor at Windsor Health Care”. Ossie, who had met her during a media interview, had explained that almost all visible skin ageing results from sun exposure, which is why “the unexposed skin on the buttocks of a seventy-year-old is not that much different from that of a twenty-year-old”.

Reaching retirement age had no impact on Ossie’s work schedule, and he had no interest in golf. But in his 60s he took up clay pigeon shooting and discovered that he was a natural. He shot at Bisley, where he captained the veterans’ team and made new friends from all walks of life, accumulating an array of trophies and competing for England in 1994. His shooting partner was well-chosen – Jim Nevill, former commander of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist squad. They established the Morton/Nevill trophy, for which the Bisley veterans now compete.

In what remained of his spare time he was a gadget fan, keen to keep up with computer technology and always fascinated by the ways in which science enhanced everyday life. His mother had been a talented pianist and Ossie particularly enjoyed opera, a subject on which he was knowledgeable. Most of all, he relished family life and was devoted to his wife Shirley, as well as being a loving father and grandfather.

His work schedule hardly abated as he entered his seventies, and he found new professional interests in academia. Ossie had been a fellow of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians since 1989, and served on its board. But over the years he developed a strong sense of frustration that most general practitioners still had no idea what pharmaceutical medicine entailed. When he was invited to the 2003 opening of the epidemiology and education unit at Queen Mary’s School of Medicine, he suggested to the director, Comfort Osonnaya, a new undergraduate course in pharmaceutical medicine, and was soon asked to develop a selective study module to form part of the students’ MB finals. Appointed honorary clinical lecturer, he greatly enjoyed engaging again with medical students some 50 years after his own undergraduate days. The course not only involved teaching, but also visits to important bodies such as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), GlaxoSmithKline and the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine.

Ossie always enjoyed a challenge, and in his late seventies he applied to the Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board for specialist accreditation as a pharmaceutical physician. As the certificate of completion of training route was not appropriate, he applied for a certificate of eligibility for specialist registration through the arduous ‘article 14’ process, which involves demonstrating suitable qualifications and experience by the submission of voluminous supporting evidence. He was the first member of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine to achieve specialist recognition via this route, inspiring others to follow.

He left a library of dozens of reference books, testifying to his deep interest in medical knowledge and dedication to professional development. Many date from the 1950s, illustrated with wonderful, old-fashioned drawings, and are inscribed in his hand as “The property of O Morton, Guy’s Hospital, London Bridge”. There are obscure hardback volumes, including a fascinating guide to plant toxicity and dermatitis, and a gruesome work on forensics and medical jurisprudence by John Glaister. There is also a 1960s edition of Gray’s anatomy, and the Encyclopaedia of general practice (Butterworths, 1963), containing several entries on dermatology written by Ossie, and numerous journal articles that he wrote (including a splendid contribution to the Guy’s Hospital Gazette discussing an anaemic woman who “for thirteen months before admission...had lived entirely on milk drinks and sherry”).

In an interview with GP newspaper in September 1969, he explained his view that “It is absolutely essential for the policies of the pharmaceutical industry to be guided by medical men, because only they can ever understand what it is like to be a physician.” Rather presciently, in the same article, he predicted the computerisation of clinical practice, describing how clinical trials would be enhanced by “every hospital in the study having a desk-top computer terminal rather like a typewriter, connected to a telephone”. And the article concluded with a quotation that neatly sums up Ossie’s professional contribution: “I have often been asked about the ethics of being a trained clinician and not treating patients. Well, if one practised medicine for forty years the total number of patients one could treat would be measured in thousands. If, in the pharmaceutical industry, one can make a contribution to a new pharmaceutical of value, one can aid the treatment of millions. From that point of view there is a real role to play.”

Jeremy Morton

(Volume XII, page web)

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