by Amit Roy
CAMBRIDGE University is bestowing an exceptional honour on Dr Yusuf Hamied by renaming its ‘1702 Chair in Chemistry’ after the head of Cipla, the Indian pharmaceutical
It is called the 1702 Chair of Chemistry because that was the year in which it was founded. It is thought to be the oldest in the world and one of the most prestigious, with previous holders over the past 300 years making vital contributions to chemistry and to medicine.
“The Chair will now be known as the Yusuf Hamied 1702 Chair of Chemistry,” said the announcement, which described Hamied as “a distinguished alumnus whose generous new donation will support it in future”.
“It was previously the BP (1702) Chair of Chemistry, the original chair having been renamed following a generous endowment by BP in 1991,” the university added.
“BP is continuing its association with the department but redirecting its funding to
support young academics.”
The name change is now “in perpetuity”. The university pointed out that “Dr Hamied worked to provide low-cost generic anti-retroviral drugs to people with HIV and Aids in developing countries, reducing the cost of the drugs to under a dollar a day”.
It is estimated that Hamied’s intervention in Africa has saved 10-15 million lives.
Cipla was founded 1935 by Hamied’s father, Khwaja Abdul Hamied, in response to a request by Mahatma Gandhi who wanted India to be self-sufficient in medicine.
The immediate past holder of the chair, Prof John Pyle, said: “I’m delighted with the
name change. Yusuf has done so much for the department and he’s a wonderful person
who has done great things.
“His mentor, Lord Alexander Todd, held the chair.”
It was Todd who admitted Hamied as an undergraduate at Christ’s College in 1954
without the necessary A-levels to read natural sciences but the gamble paid off. Hamied
took a First and stayed on to complete his PhD in the chemistry department by 1960.
Todd, who became Master of Christ’s, won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1957 and is one of many distinguished holders of the 1702 chemistry chair.
Hamied said: “Cambridge educated me, taught me how to live, and how to contribute
to the world.
“I first met Professor Todd in Bombay in 1953. When asked if there were any special qualifications required for admission to Cambridge University, he replied, ‘We have
no rules, we admit anyone whom we consider suitable to be a student.’
“My father then asked, ‘Can I send my son to Cambridge?’ and the immediate reply
was, ‘He can join in October 1954.’ Things have changed a little since then.”
Hamied, who is 82 and featured recently in the GG2 Power List 2019, emphasised his
“close bond” with Cambridge and especially the chemistry department.
“In recent years we have set-up the Todd- Hamied seminar room, the Todd-Hamied
laboratory and the Hamied laboratory in the department.
“Now I am delighted that I am leaving behind a legacy for the future.”
He quipped: “I am not taking my money with me, so this is probably a good thing.”
A current professor in the department,
Jeremy Sanders, agreed that Todd was “Yusuf’s hero”. Sanders pointed out: “Subsequent
holders have included Sir Alan Battersby, who elucidated the complex pathway by
which ‘the pigments of life’ – chlorophyll and haemoglobin – are synthesised in nature,
and Steve Ley, a great pioneer of new methods for the synthesis of organic molecules.
“Future Yusuf Hamied 1702 professors may develop new methods for making new
drugs or valuable new materials, and ultimately may make inventions and discoveries
that we cannot yet imagine.”