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Obituary: Sir Joseph Hotung (1930 - 2021)

Published: 19 January 2022

Remembering Sir Joseph Hotung, a major benefactor of St George’s, University of London and recipient of an honorary doctorate from the university, who passed away on 16 December 2021 at the age of 91.

Born in 1930, Sir Joseph was a philanthropist and businessman who contributed greatly towards research at St George’s, both for the hospital and the university. He funded research into molecular immunology and HIV/AIDS at the university, while the Sir Joseph Hotung Centre provides a facility for musculoskeletal treatment, research, and education on the hospital site.

Sir Joseph was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science (Medicine) by St George’s, University of London in recognition of the impact that his funding has had on research at the university. His contributions were recognised in a small ceremony at his home on Tuesday 14 September 2021, which was attended by Professors Jenny Higham, Jon Friedland, Julian Ma and George Griffin.  The Honorary Degree also celebrated Sir Joseph’s time serving on the University board, during which he contributed his global experience and insight as a Council Member. 

At the award ceremony, Sir Joseph shared: “I’m deeply honoured to be receiving this award. My association with St George’s, of which I am very proud, goes back many years, in particular with Professor Julian Ma and Professor George Griffin. I take this opportunity to wish you every success in all your future endeavours.” 

In 2003, Sir Joseph funded the building of critical high containment laboratories for research into HIV at the university, along with existing laboratory refurbishments and support staff. Two Hotung Chairs in Molecular Immunology and Molecular Vaccinology were also endowed to the university for 10 years as part of the investment - going to Julian Ma and Martin Cranage respectively.  

Most recently, Sir Joseph invested further into Professor Ma’s Hotung Molecular Immunology Laboratory to develop plant-based manufacturing for antibodies to prevent Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV. This helped cement the group’s position as an international leader in the field of Plant Biotechnology for Human Health. Thanks to his funding, the researchers are close to starting clinical trials for a ground-breaking antibody product, produced in plants, to prevent the spread of HIV from pregnant mothers to their unborn children. 

Speaking about this work, Professor Ma, Director of the Institute for Infection and Immunity at St George’s, said: “The investment by Sir Joseph is the reason why I came to St George’s. His funding enabled me to set up a laboratory and state-of-the-art plant growth facility to build my research team and develop novel treatments to tackle HIV.

“I am tremendously grateful for the support Sir Joseph has given me during my time at St George’s, and we will continue to honour his life by pursuing the ambitious goals set for our research.”

The impact of the support St George’s has received from Sir Joseph is extensive. Over 30 students have been awarded PhDs for their work in research groups that Sir Joseph has funded and many more have been inspired through their contacts with Hotung-funded staff.  In addition, over 100 important scientific publications have been published from St George’s acknowledging the support of the Hotung Charitable Foundation. 

Professor Jenny Higham, Principal, commented: “Support from Sir Joseph has been pivotal to St George’s in the past 20 years, both through his financial support and his guidance and intellectual input. He has left an indelible mark on research and education at the university that will have a global impact for years to come, through the students he has supported and the patients whowill benefit from his research investments.”

Sir Joseph will be dearly missed by his family, many friends and colleagues, and is survived by his children Joseph, Patrick, Ann and Ellen and their families, as well as his sister Antonia.

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