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My dream of making medicinal chemistry in academia


Winning the battle of histamine antagonists
James Black Scientist
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This was... one of the early compounds we found which would inhibit acid secretion was histidine. Now histidine is the amino acid and it seemed a very unlikely candidate for an inhibitor. But, anyway, I remember our Research Director got very excited about this... this... and it was alpha-methylhistidine, wasn't it. I think it was. He got very excited about this and maybe... and he wanted to do more, but I said, 'Look, it's not an histamine antagonist, and I'm trying to find a histamine antagonist, not an inhibitor of acid secretion'. And so we had quite a spat on that. But, anyway, we then found out that a... a salt that's often used to extract amino acids is a thing called dichlorobenzene sulfonate and we showed that, in fact, this salt on its own would do the business. So, then he wanted to go for dichlorobenzene sulfonate and... that was one of the minor battles which we won.

The late Scottish pharmacologist Sir James W Black (1924-2010) revolutionised medical treatment of hypertension and angina with his invention of propranolol, the first ever beta blocker. This and his synthesis of cimetidine, used for the treatment of peptic ulcers, earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988.

Listeners: William Duncan

After graduating with a BSc Bill Duncan went on to gain a PhD from Edinburgh University in 1956. He joined the Pharmaceuticals Division of ICI where he contributed to the development of a number of drugs. In 1958, he started a collaboration with Jim Black working on beta blockers and left ICI with him in 1963 to join the Research Institute of Smith Kline & French as Head of Biochemistry. He collaborated closely with Black on the H2 antagonist programme and this work continued when, in 1968, Duncan was appointed the Director of the Research Institute. In 1979, he moved back to ICI as Deputy Chairman (Technical), a post he occupied until 1986 when he became Chairman and CEO of Coopers Animal Health. He ‘retired’ in 1989 but his retirement was short-lived and he held a number of directorships in venture capital backed companies. One of his part-time activities was membership of the Bioscience Advisory Board of Johnson and Johnson who asked him to become Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Research Institute of Johnson and Johnson in New Jersey. For personal reasons he returned to the UK in 1999, but was retained by Johnson and Johnson until 2006 in a number of senior position in R&D working from the UK. From 1999 to 2007 he was a non-executive director of the James Black Foundation. He is now fully retired.

Tags: Smith, Kline & French

Duration: 1 minute, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008