The William Harvey Research Institute, London, England, refers to Sir John Vane as “our Field Marshall in the battle against dis- ease”. He has devoted his life to battling the disease enemy with new pharmaceutical weapons, with new biochemical intelligence and with new alliances among disparate human communities in big pharma, academia and self-help groups. In 1982, his efforts were recognized with a Nobel Prize and since that time he has re-doubled his efforts to fight disease, with a special focus on curing pulmonary hypertension.

Sir John Vane graduated in Chemistry, took a D.Phil. in Pharmacology and received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on prostaglandins and for the discovery of the mechanism of action of aspirin. He spent 20 years in academic research. As a consultant to Squibb, he initiated the program on inhibiting angiotensin-converting enzyme which led to the marketing of Captopril. During 12 years as R&D Director at the Wellcome Foundation, he oversaw the development of Tracrium, Flolan, Zovirax, and Lamictal.

In 1971, Vane and his colleagues discovered that aspirin and similar drugs produced their effects because they inhibited the biosynthesis of a group of lipid mediators called prostaglandins. In the last five years it has become clear that there are two enzymes involved. One of the “cyclo-oxygenases” called Cox 1 is responsible for making prostaglandins, which protect the stomach and kidney from damage. Inhibition of Cox 1 accounts for the unwanted side effects of aspirin-like drugs such as gastric irritation and renal damage. The other enzyme, Cox 2, is induced by inflammatory stimuli and it is prostaglandins made by this enzyme that contribute to the inflammation in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. The presently marketed aspirin-like drug inhibits both enzymes and the research may lead to selective inhibition of Cox 2, the enzyme responsible for inflammation.

The William Harvey Research Institute was established in 1986 by Sir John. Under his direction, it grew to a staff of over 120 scientists and became one of the 20 top medical charities in the UK. He is now Honorary President of the charitable arm, the William Harvey Research Foundation.

The International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences is pleased to recognize Sir John Vane for his extraordinary achievements with the Academy’s Medal of Merit.