Sir John Vane: Improbable beginnings  pg. 4

Colleagues gather outside Vane’s office in Beckenham, mid-1970s. Back row, second through fourth: Philip Needleman, Ph.D., credited with the development of Celebrex; John C. McGiff, M.D., chair of Pharmacology, New York Medical College; and Miles Weatherall, Ph.D., Wellcome Research Laboratories. Front row, left, Sergio Ferreira, Ph.D., whose research helped lead to the development of ACE inhibitor drugs to treat high blood pressure; and – third from left, next to Vane – Professor Harold Burn, Vane’s mentor from Oxford.
Also, Vane’s work laid the cornerstone for three decades’ worth of new directions in research, including the current focus on the role of cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes. Today researchers are looking at evidence that such nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as aspirin, Advil and Motrin that block COX activity might reduce the risk for some kinds of cancers and for Alzheimer’s and other diseases. “None of this would have made sense without Vane’s early experiments on prostaglandins,” Oates says.

A year after his findings were published, Vane left academia for industry, accepting a position at the British pharmaceutical company, the Wellcome Foundation, and bringing a number of outstanding colleagues with him. Needless to say, Vane caught tremendous flak from his academic colleagues for his decision, but he remained undeterred.

During his 13 years at Wellcome, Vane was in on the development of many new products, including prostacyclin, a prostaglandin derivative important in cardiovascular medicine because of its action in dilating constricted blood vessels and inhibiting platelet aggregation, or blood clots. Vane engineered a collaboration between Wellcome and its competitor Upjohn to introduce prostacyclin into the medical marketplace.

Needleman says, “He was driven. And it was quite natural for anyone working in prostaglandins, whose research was strong enough, to be in direct competition with John Vane. A lot of people melted.”

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