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James Black

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 12 April 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1817
  1. Joanna Lyall

    Nobel prize winning pharmacologist who invented β blockers

    When James Black was a fourth year student at St Andrew’s Medical School his father died of a heart attack after a particularly stressful day. The thought stayed with the young Scot that if the heart could be protected in some way from stress then the fatal damage would not occur.

    In a brilliant career divided between industry and academia he went on to develop two landmark drugs—the β blocker propranolol and cimetidine for ulcer treatment—and was awarded the Nobel prize in 1988 (with Gertrude Elion and George Hitchings).

    “To pilot one drug into the clinic is exceptional; to do so twice is a truly remarkable feat,” said Richard Bond, professor of pharmacology at Houston University, a friend and colleague of Black’s who remembers his openness, particularly with young students. At a conference in California in the 1990s he saw Black being approached by a distinguished scientist who wanted some time with him. “Of course, please have your secretary contact my office and we will schedule it,” came the courteous reply. Later an awestruck student mumbled the same request. “Sir James simply put his arm …

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