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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 22, 2010

Sir James Black, 1924-2010

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Posted by Derek

One of the giants of medicinal chemistry has died today at the age of 85 - Sir James Black, who pioneered beta-adrenoceptor antagonists and many other areas in drug discovery. Keep in mind that earlier in his career, many people thought of the concept of a "receptor" as an abstract placeholder, not necessarily something with any physical meaning. We've come a long way since then, and his work is one of the big reasons why.

He was part of the "pure medicinal chemistry" Nobel Prize award of 1988, along with George Hitchings and Gertrude Elion. There's a good interview with him at that Nobel site, and here's a tribute to him on YouTube.

Comments (12) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Current Events


1. petros on March 22, 2010 1:44 PM writes...

A very nice man as well as a great drug discoverer. I treasure the memory of meeting him in Dublin and him accompanying a random group of scientists who adjourned from the dinner to a back street pub.

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2. chris on March 22, 2010 2:10 PM writes...

Sad news indeed, and in the UK probably one of the few scientists involved with Drug discovery that the public has heard of.

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3. smurf on March 22, 2010 2:54 PM writes...

Very bright guy, even in old age, very decent man.

I certainly do not agree with everything he ever said about drug discovery, but still: who am I to argue with him?

A nobody.

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4. Wavefunction on March 22, 2010 6:23 PM writes...

One of the premier drug hunters of the century. I still remember how he applied the very simple concept of pKa in the discovery of cimetidine for peptic ulcers.

You must have read his excellent musings on pharmacology in the Annual Reviews.

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5. MedInformaticsMD on March 22, 2010 9:11 PM writes...

I particularly like his recollection in the Financial Times in a Feb 2, 2009 article "Am Acute Talent for Innovation" that:

Max Perutz, director of one of the most successful postwar science institutions, Cambridge University's Molecular Biology Laboratory, had compelling ideas on how best to nurture research, says Sir James: "No politics, no committees, no reports, no referees, no interviews - just highly motivated people picked by a few men of good judgment."

and his observation that:

There is no shortage of scientific talent. But [I am] much less optimistic about the managerial vision [of the pharmaceutical industry] to catalyse these talents to deliver the results we all want."

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6. like it is on March 22, 2010 9:41 PM writes...

#5 Black on the ideal environment for innovation:
Ah! The sheer unattainable luxury of not having to justify one's existence!
I am certain this is tongue-in-cheek.
Seriously, the best science leaders are probably revered precisely because they are so good at managing the exec board and have boundless self-confidence so they are not intimidated and can cut through the management-speak to get their messages across.

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7. MIMD on March 22, 2010 11:03 PM writes...

the best science leaders are probably revered precisely because they are so good at managing the exec board and have boundless self-confidence so they are not intimidated and can cut through the management-speak to get their messages across

That is history.

Nobody home to get the message across to anymore.

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8. Pharmachick on March 23, 2010 12:42 AM writes...



I met him once ... and, whilst thoroughly intimidating me, he was one of the "Old Lions" of Pharmacology and of Academia.

His work surely laid the foundations for many of our careers ... without receptors where would most Pharmacologists be?

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9. A Nonny Mouse on March 23, 2010 4:32 AM writes...

Sad that his passing only got 30 secs on the BBC radio news while a similarly aged sports presenter got several minutes......

My own experience of him was pretty negative when I worked at Wellcome; because of the egos of him and John Vane, all the departments had to be split. The chemistry was in two halves and we were not allowed to speak/share ideas with the section which he controlled (about work matters). To be honest, it was quite a relief when both men left!

I must admit that both Hitchins and Elion were great people with no egos at all.

Halcion days........

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10. on March 23, 2010 8:35 AM writes...

Memorial for Sir James Black. Express your memories

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11. petros on March 23, 2010 8:42 AM writes...

A Nonny Mouse's comments are intersting as from outside Jimmy was down to earth and focused on drug discovery

John Vane was an egotist who sought to use company resources to pursue (and get) a Nobel Prize. One of his acolytes Salvador Moncada didn't succeed in trying to repeat the same trick (NO)

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12. A Nonny Mouse on March 23, 2010 9:10 AM writes...


I'm not saying that he was to fault- probably not as he was just defending his areas of research which wasn't in prostaglandins. It's just that the whole research department was hampered because of the split.

As for Salvador, it's true that a huge amount of money was spent on NO research in a similar manner to the prostaglandins with Vane (I worked on them for a few years.....).

There was a brilliant article from the management consultants which the Wellcome Trust brought in to sort out the situation (disguised of course). It circulated the site for a few years (" putting Nero and Caligula in charge of a convent....")

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