Sir John Vane

Elected in 2013

Born on 29 March 1927 in Tardebigge, Worcestershire, UK
Died on 19 November 2004 in Farnborough, Kent, UK


  • Vane discovered how aspirin works, laying the foundation for current understanding of anti-inflammatory medicines, for which he shared the 1982 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He was also awarded the Lasker Prize and over 40 honorary degrees/fellowships from institutions including the Jagiellonian University Medical College, Paris Descartes University, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the University of Aberdeen
  • He proposed that inhibition of the angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) carboxypeptidase would be useful in the management of hypertension, which led directly to the discovery and manufacture of ACE inhibitors 
  • As R&D director at the Wellcome Foundation (1973–1986), his personal research group discovered and characterized prostacyclin, now used to treat pulmonary hypertension
  • In 1986, he founded the William Harvey Research Institute at St Bart’s Hospital Medical College to study cardiovascular and inflammatory disease
  • He pioneered the ‘cascade superfusion bioassay technique’ – a series of strips of smooth muscle from different locations bathed in saline solution or blood that enabled the ‘real time’ bioassay of autacoids
  • He originally studied chemistry but didn’t enjoy the subject. He was selected to join JH Burn's Pharmacology Department, gaining a BSc in pharmacology despite having no previous biological training
  • He occupied many important posts within the British Pharmacological Society, making substantial changes such as increasing the number of members. After serving as General Secretary (1970–1973), he was elected an honorary member of the Society. He was also the first Society Meetings Secretary

Personal life

  • Vane attributed his passion for experimentation to a Christmas present from his parents of a chemistry set at the age of 12
  • His father ran a company making portable buildings and soon built a wooden shed for him in the garden, fitted with bench, gas and water
  • He suffered harassment from the anti-vivisection movement, who painted graffiti on his house. He responded by supporting the outreach efforts of the Biomedical Education Research Trust and the Research Defence Society

Published: 05 Sep 2013 in Pharmacology Hall of Fame