In Memoriam: Prof Denis A Mitchison

The Union is saddened to hear of the passing this week of tuberculosis (TB) pioneer and Union Honorary Member Prof Denis A Mitchison, at the age of 98.

Prof Mitchison’s distinguished career in TB research began with his studies on anti-TB chemotherapy more than half a century ago. When he first qualified as a doctor, he helped analyse the results of the first clinical trial on streptomycin in the treatment of TB in 1947 at Brompton Hospital – one of three people on the bacteriological committee. The results of this influential work led to further research and the emergence of streptomycin as the first highly active antibiotic for TB.

In 1956 he was appointed director of the Medical Research Council Unit for Research on Drug Sensitivity in Tuberculosis at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in Hammersmith (now Imperial College). In that role he was responsible for the design of ground-breaking randomised trials in Madras, India, comparing inpatient and outpatient treatment of TB – these were the first major studies of home care for TB patients.

In 1985 Dr Mitchison retired from his position but not from science. He continued his work at Hammersmith for four years before moving to Saint George’s, University of London, where he has continued an active career in TB research well into his 90s.

With Dr Amina Jindani and colleagues in South Africa, he developed a technique for measuring the early bactericidal activity of drugs, which is now standard practice as the initial step in phase II of the clinical development of new drugs. He also introduced the concept of the eight-week phase II study, which records the proportion of patients obtaining negative sputum culture at eight weeks, and is now a standard assessment in most such studies. More recently he developed (with Dr Geraint Davies and the South African MRC) a new type of phase II eight-week study, using modeling of counts of TB in sputum during treatment. He has done work on several new anti-TB drugs and participated in clinical trials on high dosage rifamycins.

The author of more than 250 scientific papers, Dr Mitchison was the recipient of many awards, including the Stop TB Partnership Kochon Prize (2008) and the British Thoracic Society Medal (2000). He also received the Medal of Honour from The Union in 1987 and The Union Medal in 2015.

Dr Mitchision’s work has contributed to the saving of millions of lives around the world, and continues to have impact on the lives of people living with TB today. He will be greatly missed.