Sir John Vane: Improbable beginnings  pg. 6

In 1986, Vane retired from the business world and devoted his energies towards preserving and advancing scientific research. He recruited some of his old lab buddies to form The William Harvey Research Institute, an organization designed to bridge the gap between academics and industry.

In 1990, Flower, who had spent several years as chairman of Pharmacology at the University of Bath, joined the Institute, this time on equal footing with his beloved mentor as a member of the board of directors. The purpose of the institute, an affiliate of the United Kingdom’s Association of Medical Research Charities, has been to encourage creative approaches to basic research, present new data and foster collegiality among medical scientists.

For all of his accomplishments, Vane’s greatest legacy may be the people he trained.

Flower worked on understanding the biology of such autoimmune inflammatory diseases as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Sergio Ferreira, Ph.D., professor of Medical Biochemistry at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, is internationally renowned for his contributions to the collection of ACE inhibitor drugs for lowering blood pressure. John Hughes, Ph.D., shared the prestigious Lasker Award in 1978 for the discovery of endogenous opioid peptides involved in the body’s regulation of pain.

Salvador Moncada, Ph.D., currently director of the Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research of the University College London, pioneered research into nitric oxide, now considered a “super-molecule” because of the role it plays in the immune and nervous systems, in inflammation and in programmed cell death (apoptosis).

Needleman went on to hold executive positions in the pharmaceutical giants, Pharmacia, Monsanto and Searle, and was involved in the development of such drugs as the COX-2 inhibitors Celebrex, Bextra and Dynastat, and Inspra, a blood pressure drug that blocks the actions of the hormone aldosterone.

Needleman says, “The years I scientifically jousted with John Vane more than prepared me for a career in industry where I would be dealing with CEOs, boards of directors and industry analysts. To survive a scientific interaction with John Vane you had to be at the top of your game. He was a great influence.”

Throughout his career, Vane was, first and foremost, an activist for scientific freedom.

Recalling his days in training, Flower says, “John’s attitude to drug discovery was that if you gave bright scientists (creative freedom) then they would come up with the goods sooner or later. We had few formal departmental meetings or departmental seminars, and yet somehow we seemed to know more about what we were individually doing, and what our colleagues out there were doing, than at any other time.

“Despite these factors, which no doubt would horrify a head of department today, the department was undoubtedly the friendliest, the fairest, and the safest I have ever worked in.”

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