Ralph F. Hirschmann, a leader of a team of biochemists that for the first time synthesized an enzyme, one of the master chemicals of life, died June 20 at his home in Lansdale, Pa. He was 87. The cause was kidney failure, his daughter Carla Hummel said.
Along with Robert G. Denkewalter, Dr. Hirschmann headed the research team at Merck Laboratories in Rahway, N.J., that in the late 1960s designed one of two groundbreaking methods to synthesize the enzyme, ribonuclease. At the same time, a team of scientists at Rockefeller University in New York, led by R. Bruce Merrifield and Bernd Gutte, was completing work on another method.
The success of the parallel projects, which proved to be seminal breakthroughs in the way medicines are invented, was front-page news in The New York Times on Jan. 17, 1969.