Peter Biggs was born in Petersfield, Hampshire in 1926 into a family with a rich musical background. From an early age he was drawn to science, although singing has always been an important leisure activity. Following education in Petersfield and near Boston in the USA, his interests turned towards engineering. However, after service in the Royal Air Force from 1944 to 1948, he foresook this for veterinary medicine, a decision he has never regretted.
From 1948 to 1953 he studied at the Royal Veterinary College, London where he became attracted to virology and oncology, and in particular the leukaemias of the fowl. After graduating, he moved to Bristol University to work on the lymphoid tissue of the domestic fowl for which he was awarded a PhD in 1958. He stayed on at Bristol as a lecturer in veterinary pathology but was appointed a year later to the staff of the Houghton Poultry Research Station to develop a unit for the study of diseases of the avian leukosis complex. These diseases had been a scourge of the poultry industry for several decades, often causing high mortality in young pullets and an estimated average loss from the national laying flocks of many countries or around 30%.
To tackle the daunting challenge he established a group of research workers whose achievements, within the space of 10 years, were remarkable. In addition to unravelling the avian leukosis complex into two distinct diseases - Marek's disease and lymphoid leukosis - the cause of Marek's disease was identified and a vaccine against it was developed. The discovery that a cancerous condition was caused by a virus was a notable first and had far-reaching consequences for both veterinary and medical research. It is not surprising that Peter Biggs received the accolade of being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1976.
On the retirement of Dr Robert Gordon in 1974, Dr Biggs took on the onerous duties of Director of Houghton Poultry Research Station. He was able to continue a limited amount of research and was the first to describe lymphoproliferative disease of turkeys. However, with the tide having begun to turn against science, his energies were being increasingly deployed in efforts to safeguard research as resources began to be reduced. Although the number of staff declined, his successful strategy was to increase the number of research initiators and apply new techniques offered by molecular biology and genetic engineering. These achievements and his distinguished research record were again acknowledged by the award in 1989 of the Wolf Foundation Prize for Agriculture.
In 1987 he was given the formidable task of restructuring the four disparate veterinary research groups of the Agriculture and Food Research Council to form the Institute of Animal Health. The ultimately resulted in the work at Houghton being transferred to Compton - a process that was completed in the summer of 1992.
In addition to his research achievements, resulting in the publication of many scientific papers and the giving of invited lectures in over a dozen different countries, he has served in various capacities - and often as chairman - on numerous national and international committees and working parties. He was Editor in Chief of Avian Pathology from 1974 to 1987.
Among over 20 honours and awards received have been an Honorary DVM from Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich (1976) and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1984).
Although he 'retired' in mid 1988, Peter Biggs remains as busy as ever with Visiting Professorships in the Universities of London and Cornell (USA) and Chairmanship of the Animal Health Trust. Additionally he was President of the Institute of Biology from 190 to 1992 and is much in demand on many educational and research committee.