Obituary: Professor John Hermon-Taylor (1936 – 2021)
Published: 07 January 2022
Remembering former St George’s Professor, John Hermon-Taylor, who passed away on 16 October 2021.
Born in 1936, Professor Hermon-Taylor, or ‘Prof’ as he was known among colleagues, was a widely respected researcher and surgeon at St George’s, University of London and St George’s Hospital.
An expert in the inflammatory bowel condition, Crohn’s disease, he was Chairman of Surgery at St George’s Hospital (1976-2002), and remained at the University as an Emeritus Professor until 2007.
During his time at St George’s, Professor Hermon-Taylor conducted ground-breaking research into the causes of Crohn’s, identifying the DNA of a bacterium called Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) in the majority of people with Crohn’s disease. He hypothesised that exposure to MAP, which he showed was widely distributed in the environment, when combined with a patient’s genetic susceptibility could trigger an aggressive immune response, which might be the root cause of Crohn’s disease in many patients.
With this in mind, alongside Professor Tim Bull from the Institute for Infection and Immunity at St George’s and in collaboration with Dame Sarah Gilbert at the University of Oxford using similar technology to the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, they set about developing a vaccine that may counteract the body’s immune response to MAP. The vaccine, tested successfully in animals and is yet to be approved in humans. It has however passed Phase I human safety trials and is currently in Phase II clinical trial testing at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals in patients with Crohn’s disease. A few weeks before his passing, he heard the news that the first patient with Crohn’s disease had received the vaccine.
Speaking about his former colleague, Professor Tim Bull said: “Prof was the most charming and engaging person to work with. He was committed, forward thinking and often highly innovative. He was a passionate advocate of the ‘MAP causes Crohn’s disease theory’ and campaigned relentlessly to gain widespread recognition for his work and a solution that could aid the suffering he encountered in his patients. His legacy will continue to inspire development of new treatments and approaches to dealing with Crohn’s disease.”
Professor Hermon-Taylor was the second of five children and studied at Harrow School and St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read Medicine. After graduating, he obtained a Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1963, winning the prestigious Hallett Prize, awarded to the highest scoring candidate.
As well as a renowned surgeon and scientist, he was a keen traveller, fisherman, walker, sailor, gardener and rugby fan. As astute historian, he also had a deep interest in wartime aeroplanes and achieved his dream of a flight in a Spitfire on his 81st birthday.
In 1971 he married Ellie, whom he had met at the Mayo Clinic where she was working as a biologist. She survives him with their son and daughter.