Lives of the fellows

Denis Michael Burley

b.16 March 1927 d.19 August 1992
MRCS LRCP(1950) MB BS Lond(1950) MRCP(1976) FRCP(1980) FFPM(1989)

Denis Burley was educated at Selhurst Grammar School, Croydon, King’s College and Westminster Hospital. After house jobs at Westminster and St Mary’s, he served with the RAMC in Egypt and Cyprus from 1951-53. From 1953-58 he was successively house physician, senior house officer and registrar at St Stephen’s and Westminster Hospitals, mostly with Francis Dudley Hart; with him and others he published several drug-related papers. In 1958 he joined The Distillers Company (Biochemicals) as medical adviser and became involved in the thalidomide tragedy, on which he became an expert.In the ‘50s and ‘60s, under the influence of Sir Austin Bradford Hill (q.v.) and the MRC, Britain led the world in developing clinical trial methodology. Denis had moved to CIBA in 1963 and, being highly numerate, took to the new discipline without any difficulty. In the early ‘60s he wrote a popular booklet on medical statistics and later contributed an extensive chapter on data handling and statistics to a textbook on anaesthesia. Increasingly, over 30 years, he did more than anyone for the education and training of his colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry. The Association of Medical Advisers in the Pharmaceutical Industry (AMAPI), which was formed in 1957, began to hold professional meetings and some of Denis Burley’s frequent contributions were published as chapters in symposium proceedings. With the help of colleagues he ran many clinical trial workshops, utilizing a computerized simulation originally developed by Cyril Maxwell at Geigy. These workshops attracted students from many European countries. Some were held with Louis Lasagna in Boston and also, latterly, in several centres in the Far East where he seeded the discipline. Outstanding among his publications was the first textbook on the subspecialty entitled Pharmaceutical Medicine, London, Edward Arnold, 1985. He was the instigator, part author and co-editor with T B Binns. Unfortunately, he had not completed work on the second edition before he died. Burley’s intelligence, versatility, initiative and drive gave him an exceptional capacity for effective work. He not only gave good measure to his employers but was able to continue for 17 years as clinical assistant to Dudley Hart in the rheumatology unit at Westminster Hospital, and he also gave time to many work-related organizations. For a long time he was treasurer of the AMAPI under its old and new name: the British Association of Pharmaceutical Physicians. He worked hard for several years for the International Federation of Associations of Pharmaceutical Physicians; he was president 1984-87 and treasurer from 1987-90. As secretary/treasurer he successfully ran the Trust for Education and Research in Therapeutics from its start in 1965 until his death, handling funds which grew from a few hundred to many thousands of pounds. He was chairman of the Medico-Pharmaceutical Forum and president of the library (scientific research) section of the Royal Society of Medicine. In 1987 he retired from CIBA and established the Centre for Pharmaceutical Medicine, an independent consultancy concentrating on education, training and communications. He was also much concerned with risk/benefit evaluation of drugs.

The College recognized his work by electing him to the membership under By-Law 117 m 1976 and to the fellowship in 1980. In 1987 he became an examiner for the diploma in pharmaceutical medicine of the three Royal Colleges of Physicians in the UK. In 1989 he was appointed to the board of the newly created Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine and was the Faculty representative on the Council. He was elected president of the Faculty in October 1991. He continued bravely with this and his other duties until about a month before he died; having known the serious nature of his illness since the previous summer he had hesitated before accepting nomination but at least had the satisfaction of completing an academic year. During this period, despite intermittent crises, he carried on almost regardless - even towards the end he seemed detached, almost as if it was happening to someone else. If he experienced despair he never showed it but managed to remain his old unassuming, courteous and friendly self. Apart from his work, he took great interest in his garden and in philately. He was a first class bridge player and was chairman of the London Medical Bridge Club. He was also a keen follower of other games and sport; notably chess, cricket and golf. A day at Lords with Denis and friends was a day to remember. He would talk about all these things, or the stock market, but he never talked about himself, his emotions or beliefs. In that sense he was a very private person. His career spanned the evolution of pharmaceutical medicine as we know it today; he made outstanding contributions, his ability and integrity won universal respect and he reached a level of achievement and distinction that would have been unthinkable 30 years earlier.

T B Binns

[Brit.med.J., 1992,305,1088; Pharm.Physician (BrAPP) Vol.4,5,Sept/Oct 1992,3]

(Volume IX, page 64)

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