BLUE Plaques were unveiled at two Oxford buildings yesterday afternoon to commemorate the development of penicillin.

Ceremonies were held at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology – which researched the antibiotic between 1938 and 1941 – and the former Radcliffe Infirmary which held the first clinical trials in 1941.

Alexander Fleming is well known for identifying its antibiotic properties 80 years ago, but pioneering research in Oxford also played a pivotal role in the birth of modern medicine, which relies heavily on antibiotics.

The substance revolutionised the treatment of bacterial infections, and is credited with saving countless lives.

Speaking at the first of two unveiling ceremonies yesterday, chairman of Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board, Robert Evans, said: “We think of it as being one of the supreme Oxford firsts and that’s why we were extremely willing to follow through suggestions made to us in respect of the two plaques.”

In 1945, Oxford scientists Howard Florey and Ernst Chain shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Fleming for their research.

Sir Ernst’s son, Benny – now an immunology professor at UCL – was at the ceremony.

The 62-year-old said: “It’s great that there is a blue plaque to mark it and I think it is particularly appropriate to be on this building where the actual work was done.

“My father would have been very pleased.”

Also speaking before the first unveiling, Professor Matthew Freeman, head of the Dunn School, told guests: “Thank you for coming to celebrate what I think is probably the world’s greatest story of discovery ever.

“The discovery here was one of those very rare, epoch-changing events. We don’t know how many lives have been saved but it is into the hundreds of millions.”

When clinical trials were given to go-ahead, scientists at the Dunn School liaised with a young doctor, Charles Fletcher, for them to begin at the Radcliffe Infirmary.

The first ever patient was Albert Alexander, an Abingdon police constable who was dying from a septic wound on the infirmary’s Briscoe Ward in February 1941.

He made a rapid recovery but there was not a sufficient quantity of purified penicillin available and he relapsed and died.

Another guest at the ceremony was Dr Hubert Zawadzki, 72, whose life was saved by penicillin in 1946 when he just was days old.

He said: “I’m very honoured to be here at this place. I got pneumonia and the nurse asked my mother to baptise me because I was about to die. It so happened that there was a Polish doctor on duty with access to penicillin, which was not yet fully available to civilians. There was another infant who also was dying, but the next duty doctor did not give him the jab and the boy died.”