The John Vane Chair

The major contributions Sir John Vane made to medicine are exemplified by:

  • the billions of people worldwide who take aspirin to prevent heart attacks, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) for arthritis and rheumatism;
  • the 35 - 40 million people worldwide who take angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors every day to treat their blood pressure, heart failure or kidney disease;
  • and the thousands of patients with pulmonary hypertension who are kept alive by infusions of prostacyclin.

The aim of this appeal is to raise £2M to establish the John Vane Professor of Translational Cardiovascular Medicine or Pharmacology to lead a Centre for Pharmacological Innovation in the William Harvey Research Institute. This Centre will exploit recent insights from genetic research in order to identify new ways to treat heart and vascular diseases, leading to new medicines for the 21st century. This strategic development will embrace the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of John Vane and provide a lasting memorial to his pioneering achievements.

About Sir John R. Vane FRS, Nobel Laureate (1927 - 2004)

John Vane was born in Worcestershire in 1927. He originally trained as a chemist but later joined the Pharmacology Department at Oxford University from where he gained a doctoral degree in 1953.

John played a key role in the development of several important medicines. The first of these was based on a concept he developed in the late 1960s that high blood pressure could be reduced by inhibiting a particular enzyme in the body called angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE). This idea was born from experimental observations made in his laboratory and it was developed by the pharmaceutical industry at his suggestion. Today, 'ACE inhibitors' are taken by millions of people with high blood pressure and these drugs are amongst the most important of the last century.

Shortly after this John made another crucial discovery, this time relating to a very old medicine that we have all taken at some time - aspirin. This had been used since the end of the 19th century as a medicine to treat fever, inflammation and pain. Over the years, many other drugs were introduced which produced the same effects as aspirin, although no one understood how this was brought about. John discovered that these drugs all blocked the generation in the body of inflammatory substances called prostaglandins. This research also led to the discovery of prostacyclin, a protective vasodilator molecule. John was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1982 for these discoveries.

Like his first work on ACE inhibitors, John's work on aspirin had far reaching consequences enabling the pharmaceutical industry to design better anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of chronic inflammatory disorders such as arthritis.

In 1984 he was knighted in the New Year's Honours List for services to pharmaceutical science.

John died in 2004 aged 77 but left us an astonishing legacy not only in the form of novel medicines for the treatment of some of mankind's most distressing conditions, but he also established the William Harvey Research Institute at St Bartholomew's and The Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London. This vibrant institute continues his work to this day, researching inflammatory disease and heart and blood pressure related disorders, and is a lasting testament to this great man and his immense achievements.

Research in the Centre for Pharmacological Innovation

Genetic influences on common diseases remain poorly understood. For instance, more than 1 billion people worldwide suffer from high blood pressure, which is a major contributory factor for 50% of coronary heart disease and 75% of stroke. Blood pressure is determined by a complex interplay between many genes and lifestyle factors e.g. dietary salt, alcohol and obesity. The William Harvey Research Institute has been playing a major role in the international efforts to identify the genetic causes of high blood pressure, which led to the description of eight genes strongly implicated in the disease (Nature Genetics 2009; 41: 666 - 676). But the mechanism by which these genes affect blood pressure is completely unknown. Therefore the likely research goals of the Centre for Pharmacological Innovation will include understanding how these genes influence blood pressure and investigate potential novel therapeutic approaches to alter the function of these genes. Such insights will lead to new medicines to treat high blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Fundraising efforts will support the appointment of the John Vane Professor of Translational Cardiovascular Medicine or Pharmacology, laboratory staff and research costs.

Expected Value of the Centre for Pharmacological Innovation

The drug development pipeline for hypertension suffers from a paucity of drug targets. Research on the function of genes newly implicated in this disease will take this area in a completely new direction. This has the potential to unplug the scientific bottleneck and revolutionize therapeutic strategies for high blood pressure as well as for individuals at risk of heart disease and stroke, thereby giving rise to a scientific legacy worthy of research in John Vane's name.

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