Sir John Vane
was one of the pre-eminent pharmacologists of the twentieth
century. He established the William Harvey Research Institute
at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College in 1986
after twelve years as R & D Director of the Wellcome Foundation.
John Vane shared the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1982 for
his work on prostaglandins. In part this was in recognition
of his discovery of how aspirin blocked the synthesis of prostaglandins
through inhibition of the enzyme now widely known as cyclo-oxygenase.
His work led to a clear understanding of how aspirin and similar
drugs produce pain-relief and anti-inflammatory effects. It
also provided an explanation for how aspirin prevents blood
clots and helps prevent heart attacks and strokes. Aspirin
remains one of the most commonly used medicines for treating
people with heart disease. John Vane and colleagues at Wellcome
also discovered prostacyclin, a key protective factor that
helps keep blood vessels healthy. Prostacyclin is a vasodilator
prostaglandin that helps prevent blood clots by reducing the
stickiness of platelets.
In the early 1970s John Vane also played a key role in research
that led to the discovery of captopril – the first member
of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor family
of medicines. ACE inhibitors are now widely used to treat
high blood pressure, heart failure and kidney disease.
John Vane was born in Worcestershire and educated at King
Edward VI School, Birmingham. He obtained a B.Sc. in Chemistry
at the University of Birmingham in 1946 before training as
a pharmacologist under the tutelage of Professor J. Harold
Burn in Oxford. After obtaining his Ph.D. in 1953 John Vane
spent two years in the Department of Pharmacology at Yale
University with the then chairman Dr. Arnold Welch. In 1955
he returned to the UK to work with Professor W. D. M. Paton
at the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences of the University
of London in the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The
next 18 years were scientifically some of John Vane’s
most productive as it was during this time he undertook work
on both angiotensin-converting enzyme and the actions of aspirin.
He progressed from Senior Lecturer in 1955, to Reader in 1961,
and then Professor of Experimental Pharmacology in 1966. In
1973 John Vane became R & D Director at the Wellcome Foundation.
His research group also moved to Wellcome where they continued
their highly successful work on prostaglandins. This soon
led to the discovery of prostacyclin.
At the William Harvey Research Institute John Vane focused
on selective inhibitors of COX-2, and the interplay between
nitric oxide and endothelin in the regulation of vascular