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Sir James Whyte Black

Published: 05 Sep 2013 in Pharmacology Hall of Fame

Elected in 2013

Born on 14 June 1924 in Uddingston, UK
Died on 22 March 2010 in London, UK

Achievements

  • Black discovered two ‘first-in-class’ medicines: the first beta-blocker (propranolol, launched 1964) and the first selective histamine H2 antagonist for the treatment of stomach ulcers (cimetidine, launched 1975). His research and discoveries developed his deep fascination for receptor theory as the bedrock of pharmacology and drug discovery
  • He graduated in medicine from St Andrew’s in 1946 but never pursued a PhD – describing himself as “one untrained in experimental science who picked it up along the way”
  • He attributed his “conversion” to pharmacology and appreciation of cross-disciplinary collaboration to his time at the ICI Pharmaceutical Laboratories (now AstraZeneca) at Alderley Park, Cheshire
  • In 1988, he received the Nobel Prize in Medicine with Gertrude Elion and George Hitchings ’for their discoveries of important principles for drug treatment’. In the same year he also founded the James Black Foundation, a not-for-profit group of scientists engaged in new drug research
  • He was Chancellor of the University of Dundee (1992–2005) and held honorary doctorates of Laws (1992) and Science (2006) from Dundee
  • He was elected to membership of the British Pharmacological Society in 1961, was elected as an honorary member in 1988 and was awarded the Wellcome Gold Medal in 1997. He published 39 full papers with the Society’s journals, including his last manuscript in the year he died, 2010

Personal life

  • Black has been described as a proud Scotsman and is one of three Scottish winners of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine
  • He was knighted in 1981 and awarded the UK’s highest honour, the Order of Merit, by the Queen in 2000
  • Growing up in the coalfields of Fife, he had an early interest in music and mathematics, and only chose medicine under the influence of an elder brother, who had previously graduated as a doctor from St Andrew’s