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Developing the idea of a beta receptor antagonist


Setting up a physiology department at Glasgow Veterinary College
James Black Scientist
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I'm back in London and... after three years, and I'm walking the streets of London between medical schools, knocking on doors trying to get a job, when one day I'm in Oxford Street and a hand falls on my shoulders, and this is Professor Garry. He was the professor that I originally went to work with in Dundee. Meanwhile, he'd moved to Glasgow. And, so he took me back to his hotel and had some tea and... and anyway, he said, 'Well, you know, I could give you a job in Glasgow, but how about the Vet School?' Now, this was now 1950 and after the war, the post-war government decided to nationalise all the Vet schools. There was one, the Royal Dick, at Edinburgh which was part... in the University sector. All the others were private companies. So, Glasgow had a thing called the Glasgow Veterinary College, housed in an 1840s building in Buccleuch Street, and it was pretty well... it was a dump, to put it finely. But, the University took it over... there has... they had to by law. They were told: Take it over. And, they didn't know what to do with the Vet School, but they did a clever thing. They head-hunted the most successful veterinarian in the West of Scotland, a man called William Weipers – Bill Weipers. And, so he said, 'Why don't you come and meet Weipers?' So, I went and met him, and he was a man I learned to love. He had... he... he was like a dog with grizzled hair, he had big eyebrows, sharp face, piercing eyes, and he'd go right to the point, and he could obfuscate like nobody if he didn't want you to make a decision. He could talk and talk and talk and talk. Anyway, he offered me a job, so I got the job at a very tender age of starting a new department of physiology from scratch. There was nothing there. So I built myself a workshop and got my labs going and so on, and gradually it filtered up to the University that there was some funny young guy down in the Vet School who seemed to have equipment and be able to do experiments and things. So I suddenly found people knocking at my door, two of them I eventually worked with: two Georges – George Smith... I beg your pardon, two Smiths: George Smith and Adam Smith.

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: London, Oxford Street, Glasgow, 1950, University of London Royal Veterinary College, Royal Veterinary College, The Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh, The University of Edinburgh, The Glasgow Veterinary College, Buccleuch Street, RC Garry, William Weipers, Adam Smith

Duration: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008