Obituaries

Mortimer Sackler

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c2671 (Published 19 May 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2671
  1. Ned Stafford

    Psychiatrist, pharmacology pioneer, wealthy drug company owner, and philanthropist

    During the past 50 years, Mortimer Sackler made a lot of money as co-owner with his two brothers of drug companies—and he gave away millions, donating for medical and scientific research as well as for the arts. With the Sackler name adorning medical schools, universities, and art museums around the world, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States, Sackler was perhaps primarily recognised as a successful businessman and philanthropist.

    But business and philanthropy are only part of his story. As a young psychiatrist in the late 1940s and ’50s, Sackler and his two brothers, also psychiatrists, helped pioneer research of the biology of psychiatric illnesses, research that helped open the door decades later towards drug treatments.

    “In retrospect, he was kind of a visionary,” said Dr Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. “He was ahead of his time.”

    Biological basis of behaviour

    In the 1940s, when psychiatry was dominated by psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory, the Sackler brothers were among a small group of psychiatrists to “search for the biological basis of behaviour and mental illness,” said Lieberman, who is also director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute. When Sackler and …

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